The Matching Hypothesis

Table of Content


There are many factors involved in the formation of relationships, proximity, exposure and family, similarity, physical attractiveness, complementarily, competence and reciprocal liking. In this investigation, the research will explore attractiveness, specifically the match hypothesis.

Zuckerman et al (1995) reported that the more attractive a person seemed to be, the more positive was another’s overall impression of that person. Symons (1979) showed that a woman’s physical health, age, and uniqueness are attractive to men whereas a man’s status, height, skills, and abilities are attractive to women. Berry and Miller (2001) found that males rated physical attractiveness as the best predictor for higher quality interactions with woman, while woman rated sociability as the most important factor for men.

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A study was carried out by Walster et al in 1966 known as the ‘computer dance study’. 752 ‘freshers’ took part. First they were told to fill in a questionnaire, after which they were told that they had been allocated an ideal partner for the evening of the dance. These pairings however, had been made at random on basis of their physical attractiveness. Students were asked how much they liked their date and if they wanted to see them again. They found that physical attractiveness was the single biggest predictor of how much each date had been liked by both male and the female participants. The desire of another date was determined by the attractiveness of the female, irrespective of the attractiveness of the male.

When we see a person in the street we automatically rate that person’s attractiveness, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously. The matching hypothesis is a popular psychological theory proposed by Walster et al. 1966, on what causes people to be attracted to their partners. It claims that people are more likely to form long- lasting relationships with people who are roughly equally as physically attractive as themselves. This investigation is going to replicate this study.

Several studies have tested the matching hypothesis. These studies generally show that people rated as being of high, low or average attractiveness tend to choose partners of a corresponding level of attractiveness.

Several studies have been carried out that explore this field of interest for, Murstein (1972) who also supports the matching hypothesis did a study with photographs of the faces of ‘steady or engaged’ couples were compared with random couples. The real couples were consistently judged to be more similar to each other in levels of physical attractiveness than the random pairs. Murstein summarised the findings of the study as: ‘Individuals with equal market value for physical attractiveness are more likely to associate in an intimate relationship such as engagement that individuals with disparate values.’

In simple terms, he found that people with roughly equal attractiveness are more likely to establish an intimate relationship, than if one person out of the couple was seen as being ‘unattractive’ and the other ‘attractive’.

This investigation focuses on couples’ separate attractiveness and their attractiveness as a couple, analysing singular attractiveness and coupled attractiveness.

The aim: The aim of the study is to investigate the matching hypothesis and to test whether there is a positive correlation between the scores of perceived attractiveness of the male and female of the married couples and also as a couple. This investigation differs to previous studies carried out in this area of interest, as the photographs are not separated and the males and females are rated separately in terms of attractiveness. Participants were also asked to rate the photos as a couple.

The hypothesis: There would be a positive correlation between participants perceived scores of attractiveness of photographs of married couples.

Null hypothesis: There would be no correlation between participants perceived scores of attractiveness of photographs of married couples.


The method chosen for this study was a correlational research method, as a relationship between the two variables was being investigated. The co-variance is the male and female scores. All the photos used throughout the procedure are obtained from articles from a local newspaper. After the photos are obtained, record sheets will be produced on which the participants will rate the couples.

The photos used will be kept together (i.e. they will not be cut into separate male and female sections) for the simple reason that I am also asking the question; do the couples match each other? This would be impossible to do so if the photographs were separated. This also makes my investigation more original. The participants will then be presented with forms like the record sheet (appendix). Cause and analysis was the appropriate method for this investigation as it provides information on the strength of a relationship between specific variables.

The gender of the participants may affect how attractive they perceive the male/ female and the couple as a whole, so an equal number of male and female participants were chosen (10 male and 10 female) through an opportunist sample. I will take the following into account:

  • The light in the room- a dull light may distort the photos.
  • I must make sure participants are not distracted whilst carrying out the investigation.
  • The temperature of the room the study is carried out in which will be about 19-21 degrees. The place has to comfortable with decent lighting and distraction free. The best place to achieve all this is the library, as all these factors are eliminated due to the common environment of a library.
  • The colour of photos (black and white or colour) – A low quality photograph may cause bias as it may create a false image of the people and/ or person to overcome this I will only use colour photos on the same quality paper- to eliminate any possibility of bias through quality
  • The size of photos- if the photographs are not big enough, it will be difficult for participants to rate people in terms of attractiveness if they cannot see them properly therefore have each photo as a similar size- if one photograph of one couple is considerably bigger than another it will ultimately make the investigation biased.
  • Have an equal number of male and female participants- To eliminate any gender bias as some male participants may find it hard to rate male attractiveness.
  • The overall shape of someone may have an effect on their attractiveness thus I will only use photos that show the upper part of the couples bodies.- much research has already been carried out studding the attractiveness of people as a whole (i.e. full length photographs), this will make the investigation more original and less biased as all the couples will only have face photos.

The materials I will be using are:

  • Paper- forms, instead of using 1 form per person, I will be using one form per couple for participants to fill in.
  • Pens
  • Photographs


20 participants will be drawn from the library using opportunist sample. There will be 10 male participants and 10 female participants to eliminate gender bias and also to explore gender differences in attractiveness rating.

The target participants are males and females of 16-18 year old. The researcher, me is a 17 year old 6th form student from a Northeast School. The participants are all from Newcastle upon Tyne, they were chosen as they were using the school library at the time of the investigation been carried out.

Found 5 photographs of couples from a local newspaper, made sure they were all of similar size, in black and white. Next forms produced with the photos on the back of the score sheet, with a rank of 1-10 (10 being the highest- most attractive, see appendix). There is an equal amount of participants, made sure the study was carried out in a suitable area with an equal number of male and female participants taking part (If it is a mix gender study).

When participating in the investigation, the participants were informed exactly what to do, they were briefed and finally debriefed. There will be a set of instructions to go with the briefing stage.

  1. Your task is to rate each person in the couple on their attractiveness.
  2. People’s attractiveness is rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest.
  3. You are then, on sheet number 2, to state if you think the couples suit each other as a couple.
  4. You will do this by placing a Y (yes) or an N (no) next to the number of the couple’s photographs.

Before participating, people will be given a sheet of paper that briefs them about what kind of investigation they are partaking in, below is what it will say:


“You are now about to participate in a psychological study, you have the right to withdraw at any time during this investigation. If you do choose to withdraw, all evidence of your participation in this experiment will be destroyed. None of the data collected will be traceable back to you”

After their contribution to my investigation, each participant will be debriefed. Again they will be handed a piece of paper that briefly states what I was investigating:


“You have just finished partaking in my psychological investigation, you still have the right to withdraw any information you have given. My investigation was looking into the attractiveness of couples and the matching hypothesis. Remember none of the data I have collected can be traceable back to you, thank you for taking part’


The data was analysed using influential statistics. The test used was the Spearman’s Rank Order Correlation Coefficient test. This test was selected as it is a two sample test of correlation for use with data that has an ratio level of measurement because they were rated scale 1-10 then converted to ordinal data and was rank ordered (see appendix).

A 5% level of significance was selected as this represents the balance between making a type one and type two error. A type one error being when the null hypothesis is rejected even if it is true, and the probability of making an error like it is equal to the level of significance- 5%. A type two error is when a null hypothesis is reserved when it is actually wrong.

Statistical summary:

The critical value of rs is 0.9 the critical value of rs for a directional hypothesis at the 5% significant level where n= 5, my value from the spearman’s rank was 1.0. This shows a strong positive correlation. As the observed value is higher than the critical value, the alternative hypothesis is accepted, and the null hypothesis is rejected. It can be concluded that any differences in results are not due to chance alone.

Statistical summary:

The critical value of rs is 0.9 the critical value of rs for a directional hypothesis at the 5% significant level where n= 5, my value from the spearman’s rank was 1.0. This shows a strong positive correlation. As the observed value is higher than the critical value, the alternative hypothesis is accepted, and the null hypothesis is rejected. It can be concluded that any differences in results are not due to chance alone.

The hypothesis was that male and female couples would be rated as having similar attractiveness by showing a photograph of the couple and asking participants to rate them separately in terms of attractiveness. This was found true, although the results are not significant, the results obtained did account for the research found in the introduction.

The investigation seemed to follow certain patterns; this lead to the expansion of the study. One pattern found was the common pattern that was the ranking for males in the photos by male participants, and the ranking for females in the photos by the female participants. What was discovered was that males continuously rank other males much lower than they rank the females in the photographs, for example male number 2 rated the male in photograph 1 only 2 points, whereas he rated the female of the couple 8 points.

For female participants the opposite is true with a couple of anomalies. For example, on photograph 2, 2 female participants number 19 rated the male as 7 however only rates the female 5, unlike most female participants who consistently ranked the female higher than the male.

Looking at the mean scores (see results) compared to the male participant scores for each male (see appendix) the difference can sometimes be quite considerable. When being asked to rate the males in the photographs, male participants seemed to feel strange about rating them high, even a fair ranking appeared extremely difficult for them to do. Only on photograph 4 did they seem to rate the male in conjunction with the score they gave to the female of that couple (see appendix).

This could be for a number of reasons; firstly, males may have more confidence in their physical attractiveness than females, maybe due to the media focusing on such trivial matters as ‘celebrity diets’. Also males may feel uneasy about judging another male’s attractiveness as they might then be referred to as ‘gay’ in today’s society.

Moving onto the female participants, who (bar 2 photographs) rated the female in the couple higher than the males. It seems socially acceptable for a female to say ‘oh yeah she’s pretty’, however for a male to acknowledge another man’s attractiveness would be frowned upon, in that they would be perceived as holding homosexual tendencies, or this may be due to them being oblivious to what woman find attractive in men.

There are a number of additional factors that might have caused the females to be perceived as more attractive than the males. For example, the photographs of the couples were of their wedding day. This would make both the bride and the groom, however specially the bride, look more attractive. This is because on wedding days the bride is especially groomed to look her best- and so usually looks much better than that in everyday life. This is, a confounding variable, as she is perceived to look more attractive than she actually is.

Another factor that I discovered when studying the matching hypothesis was that the couples who were rated lower received more marks (see appendix) for whether they suited each other or not. Couple number 3 who received an overall ranking of 119 (lowest ranking) received 20 points (highest possible score) for the matching hypothesis. Also couple 5 with 200 points (second highest score) received 10 marks for the matching hypothesis (second lowest).

Relationship to background research

The results gained in this investigation support Murstein’s 1972 research where comparison of actual couples and random couples were judged on attractiveness. The research obtained in this investigation also found that couples are rated as having similar attractiveness.

From the investigation it was determined that the perceived level of physical attractiveness of females is far greater than the perceived level of attractiveness of males. There are many studies that give reasons for this. For example, women usually chose partners that are less attractive than they are. Huston (1973) suggested that people were afraid of being rejected by their prospective partners. They deliberately choose someone who is similar to them, not because they find them most attractive, but because they don’t want to be rejected.

Limitations and modifications

The photographs I used were not as good as they should have been for this particular investigation of attraction because they were black and white and also not good quality photos. To overcome this problem, I would only use large photographs, around 5x5cm for future investigation. I would also use more photos, to make it a more specific test and also to make my results more significant to this area of psychology. I would use approximately 10 photos, as it would give an easy average to work with.

Even though, the photographs were not as good as they should have been, there might have been a more major reason for my results. People may rate attractiveness in a totally different way. For example a person may be attracted to someone because of their body language rather than their physical attractiveness. I would conquer this by video taping a couple on their wedding day and ask participants to judge their attractiveness by more factors than just physical attractiveness.

Suggestions for further research

My hypothesis was that there would be a positive correlation between participants perceived scores of attractiveness of photographs of married couples. For further research into this area of psychology, I would tape several couples on their wedding day and (with their consent) get participants to rate them on many different aspects of attractiveness.

Factors such as; proximity, body language, facial features, humour etc. would also be taken into consideration, with the investigation focusing on which of these would be the ultimate reason why people are attracted to others. My hypothesis would be that the more attracted the couples are to each other the longer their marriage would last. This includes factors such as proximity, body language, facial features, humour etc would be the factors to observe.

For example the more body language they have towards each other it increases the rate of attraction between them. From this investigation you can extract the idea that it’s not the most attractive who gets the most partner, everyone finds a partner similar to their own attractiveness.

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The Matching Hypothesis. (2017, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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