One explanation relating to interpersonal attachment is proximity, it’s the physical distance between people, it’s an important factor when it comes to choosing who we are friends with or who we have romantic relationships with. It’s quite simple in that the smaller the distance between two people the more likely they are to meet and become attracted to one another. Some support evidence of this is by Festinger et al (1950) they studied married graduate students, The students were randomly assigned apartments in 17 different two storey buildings.
They were all asked to name three people in the complex they were most friendly with. They found that the people they named lived in the same building on the same floor and normally lived next door. They also found the people who lived by stairways had the most friends as they had the most opportunity to meet people; however this piece of evidence is hard to generalise as it was only done in the USA and on students so it’s not typical of society. Another piece of evidence was done by Bossard (1932) he looked at marriage licences in Philadelphia and found that marriage partners had already lived close to one another.
Proximity provides the minimum conditions for attraction to take place and friendships and romantic relationships are more common between people who live close to each other, however Bossard and Clarke’s findings may not be so true in today’s society because people are a lot more mobile and travel a lot more than in the 30’s and 50’s. There is also evidence to suggest that close physical proximity not only increase our chances of liking it also increases the likelihood of disliking a person.
Evidence to support this was done by Ebbesen et al (1976); he studied residents of apartment blocks in California and found that their closest friends and most of their enemies lived in close proximity to them. Another explanation relating to interpersonal attachment is similarity. According to this explanation we choose to form relationships with people who have the same attitudes, beliefs and values. According to Rubin (1973) similarity is important because joint activities are more likely to take place, having someone agree with us increases our confidence which enhances our self esteem.
Similarity will also make communication easier and we may assume people with similar attitudes will like us, so we like them. Some evidence of this explanation was demonstrated by Newcomb (1961), he got information on student’s attitudes and beliefs and assigned students to share room some shared the same attitudes and other didn’t. He found friendships were more likely to develop if they were similar. 58% of friendships shared the same attitudes compared to 28% of the dissimilar room mates. However all participants were American students which makes this a bias sample and limits the ability to generalise.
Further research supporting the idea similarity is important was demonstrated by Newcomb (1943). Newcomb studied women at an American college where staff and students had liberal attitudes, he found many students who had a conservative backgrounds adopted liberal attitudes to fit in, however this research was also conducted on a bias sample of participants, they were all female so therefore there is no evidence on the behaviour of males and they were all American which means its not typical of the rest of society.
There is a lot of support for this explanation most studies suggest that they are to do with beliefs, attitudes and values. The problem is that many studies have methodological criticisms of artificiality and unrepresentative samples which make generalising to real life situations difficult, also Winch (1958) offered a very different view, he investigated the idea that opposites attract.
He argued married couples will be happy if they each have complimentary needs, for example if a domineering person marries someone who is submissive this will allow both needs to met, however there is little evidence to support this view. Felmlee'(1995) the theory of fatal attraction, he found that dissimilar factors which may initially led to an attraction eventually turned out to be a disastrous relationship, what was first seen as adventurous and unpredictable later turned to irresponsible and unreliable.
Overall it is clear that no single explanation is capable of standing alone, interpersonal attraction involves a combination of factors. Proximity is needed to meet people and for a relationship to develop. Familiarity is the frequency of interactions as it allows us to meet people and get to know them. Physical attractiveness has been shown to influence our decision about who we start a relationship with and even more so similarity and matching hypothesis.
However much of the research is artificial, physical attractiveness is based on artificial situations so it effects generalising to real life situations and much of the research was done on students, so it is not representative of society. A key criticism is one of cultural bias, there is failure to realise the differences between cultures, much of the research was carried out in the UK or USA and findings may not be true of other cultures. Explanations like proximity, familiarity and physical appearance may not apply to cultures where arranged marriages are the norms and where relationships are considered permanent.