Despite Everything You’ve Heard, Opposites Don’t Actually Attract

Both your mom and years of psychological research have said time and again that “opposites attract.” But by wading through years of Facebook click data, researchers have found that it’s really not true. Like generally goes with like, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Michal Kosinski of Stanford University, Wu Youyou and David Stillwell of the University of Cambridge and H. Andrew Schwartz of Stony Brook University in New York looked at piles of click data generated by hundreds of thousands of Facebook users. In a series of studies, they examined the “Likes” of these people as well as their writing patterns. They also compared the Facebook behaviors of people in romantic relationships and pairs of friends.

Opposites pbs rewireIndicating our preferences on Facebook—clicking “Like” on the pages of TV shows, celebrities, activities and brands we’re interested in—has been shown in another study to be an accurate predictor of personality traits.

“For example, people who score high on Extraversion tend to Like ‘partying,’ ‘dancing,’ and celebrities such as ‘Snooki,'” the researchers behind the big data study wrote in their paper.

And our online behaviors—our likes and the way we talk about things—are generally similar to the people closest to us, they found, especially between significant others. They looked at the “Big 5″ personality traits, five basic dimensions of personality: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

“As it turns out, the great majority of our interactions are with people who are a lot like us,” Kosinski said to Stanford.

Opposites pbs rewire
This radar chart shows the similarities between thousands of Facebook users and their romantic partners (in red) and friends (in blue). The top-left chart shows personality similarities based on Facebook Likes; the top-right shows similarities based on online writing style. The bottom-left is a combination of the two. The lower-right shows personality overlap of the same people based on their own answers to traditional survey questions.

Lots of studies have come to the conclusion that opposites attract. The problem with those results, the researchers believe, is that these traditional studies ask participants to answer survey questions about themselves.

“When people realize that they’re being studied, they stop behaving naturally and change their responses and behavior,” Kosinski said.

Opposites pbs rewireThey also tend to answer survey questions about themselves relative to the way they perceive their social group. For example, Subject A might be an introvert in a group of introverts, but maybe they’re the least introverted person in that group. So they answer on a survey that they’re extroverted and different from their friends.

Kosinski said years of tell-tale Facebook activity is “way more difficult to fake.” In the age of the digital footprint, figuring out human behavior is getting easier than ever.

How similar do you think you are to your friends? Your significant other? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.