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New Research Says Opposites Don't Actually Attract

Sarah Regan
September 8, 2023
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Image by Studio Firma / Stocksy
September 8, 2023

Relationships are a fundamental part of our well-being, but what if the object of your affection is completely different from you? We've all heard the adage that opposites attract—but according to new research published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour1, pairing up with an opposite is more unlikely than you might think. Here's what they found.

Studying whether opposites really attract

For this study, researchers from the University of Colorado–Boulder wanted to assess if it's actually true that opposites attract. To do so, they conducted their own original data analysis, as well as a meta-analysis of existing research on couples and opposing traits.

The research involved looking at over 130 different traits, millions of couples, and data collected over the past 100+ years.

Their review of existing research included just under 200 studies, the oldest of which being from 1903, and included millions of pairs, including engaged couples, married couples, domestic partners, and more.

For their original research, they used the UK Biobank to look at over 130 traits across 79,074 couples in the UK.

The study authors do note that this research was only conducted on male-female relationships and cannot guarantee the same results would be seen in gay couples. They're now conducting similar research for same-sex couples to identify any patterns in similarities and differences there.

What the research found

Based on their findings, it would appear that opposites don't actually attract. Namely, when it came to the traits they studied, couples typically had around 82% to 89% traits in common, with only 3% of traits differing on average.

Namely, things like political views, religious beliefs, education level, and intelligence, showed the highest correlations in similarity, as well as substance use (or abstaining from substance use). The most common similarity of them all was being born in the same year.

Traits like height and weight, personality, and medical conditions showed less significant correlations, but the study authors note a slight tendency toward similarity was still present there.

And if you're curious about the traits that showed little correlation at all, extroverts and introverts seem to get along just fine, as well as couples where one person is an "early bird" while the other is a "night owl." "Tendency to worry" also saw a negative correlation, suggesting it's not uncommon for one person in a couple to be more worrisome than the other.

As doctoral candidate and the study's first author, Tanya Horwitz, explains in a news release, "We're hoping people can use this data to do their own analyses and learn more about how and why people end up in the relationships they do."

The takeaway

We like to think we're all very tolerant, accepting, and open-minded people—and perhaps with friends and acquaintances, we are. But according to this study, when it comes to romantic relationships, birds of a feather do tend to flock together. Or as Horwitz puts it, "These findings suggest that even in situations where we feel like we have a choice about our relationships, there may be mechanisms happening behind the scenes of which we aren't fully aware."

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.