It’s one of the myths marriage and family sociologists love to shatter: While Hollywood has romantic notions of maids in Manhattan finding love among the affluent, the truth is that assorative mating–the idea that we pair up with people quite similar to ourselves in terms of education, race, class and religious background–still rules.
New research in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior takes this one step further: The reason why we tend to gravitate toward people who are like us is that we’re looking for approval from our peer-group… and perfect strangers.
Many people like to think they have discriminating tastes when it comes to romantic interests. An Indiana University study, however, found that men and women are greatly influenced not only by what their friends think of their potential fling or relationship partner, but also by the opinions of complete strangers.
“Humans don’t exist in a vacuum. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we have evolved mechanisms that let us take advantage of the additional social information in our environment,” said Skyler Place [for his previous research, click here], a researcher in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and lead author of the study along with Peter M. Todd, professor in IU’s Cognitive Science Program.
“We might think that searching for mates is a process best done individually, that we can best gather the appropriate information by ourselves,” Place said. But humans, like many other animals, also pay attention to the preferences of others, to make for a more efficient search process. Who others like might also be a good choice for ourselves.”
He’s right–and not just in terms of research: While we all like to think we’re different, paying attention to cues from others and making sure we are part of a larger community is a good thing for longevity of relationships. Conformity isn’t something we usually like to embrace, but when like marries like, and the community supports it, I give the union a whole lot better odds of success.