Romantic Attraction Increased by Uncertainty

This study looked into the principle of reciprocity that states that people like those who also like them. Results showed that female volunteers felt more attraction to males who liked them very much compared to males who liked them to an average extent. However, when a third condition was tested, i.e. males who liked those females either a good deal or to an average extent (uncertain condition), it was found that volunteers were most highly attracted to those males. In other words, this showed that participants tended to think about the men who were uncertain the most, which increased their feelings of attraction toward the men.

“Substantial research shows that people like others who like them—which is known as the reciprocity principle,” state the researchers. However while the reciprocity principle may be true, some researchers suggest that when people are confident of a positive outcome (for example, the liking being reciprocated adequately between two people), they tend to grow complacent. On the other hand, when people feel uncertain regarding an outcome, they are hardly unable to focus on anything else. So far, there have been no studies that assess the importance of being unsure of someone and being attracted to him or her. This study was undertaken to look into this complex interplay.

* The study included 47 women volunteers. They were told that their Facebook profiles would be used for the study. They were informed that this study was conducted to see the efficacy of social networking sites as online dating websites.
* They were divided into three groups and showed profiles of men who either:
o Liked them best
o Liked them average, or
o It was uncertain whether the men liked them or found them average.
* Thereafter the volunteers were given questionnaires to rate their moods at two different time points, attraction towards the men and thoughts about them.

* Results proved the reciprocity principle showing that participants were more attracted to men who liked them best compared to those who liked them average.
* Results also showed more attraction among women toward men whose feelings of interest toward them were unsure than toward men whom the women knew liked them the most.
* Those in the uncertain group felt the maximum attraction to the men, much more than the participants in the liked-best condition.
* Assessment of moods showed participants in the liked-best condition to be in a really good mood compared to the average-liking condition. Participants in the uncertain condition were in an even better mood.

Next steps/Shortcomings
One of the limitations of the study was that it measured attraction for men in the uncertain group for only a short time. Authors admit that they do not know if the attraction would continue or increase once the women met these men. Another noted shortcoming was that this study involved only female participants. The results may be different for men participants. Authors agree that the interplay between uncertainty and attraction is complicated and further studies may clarify the relationship better.

This study has shown that feelings of attraction are often reciprocated. However, women feel more attraction to men if there is only a 50% possibility that the men liked them the most than if there was a definite possibility that the men liked them the most. Though it is complicated to determine exactly which factors facilitate interpersonal interaction, psychological advice from literature suggests that one might not generate interest among the opposite sex by playing hard to get. This study refutes the idea that, “Keeping people in the dark about how much we like them will increase how much they think about us and will pique their interest.”

For More Information:
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction
Publication Journal: Psychological Science, December 2010
By Erin R. Whitchurch; Timothy D. Wilson; University of Virginia, Charlottesville

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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