23 June 2010

Do opposites attract?

Poor lovelorn Bobby Ram has been at the bottle ... no wonder I haven't seen him in ages!

Drowning his sorrows clearly isn't getting him anywhere.

So I lent him this book : 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology - Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behaviour by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio and Beyerstein. This may seem a bit strange, considering that he's a sheep, but I'm sure there are parallels between sheepy and human behaviour.

The important one for Bobby was Myth #27 - Opposite Attract : We Are Most Romantically Attracted to People [or Lambs] Who Differ from Us.

I felt this myth related to his relationship with Lulu - Lulu is crazy, promiscuous, badly behaved, unreliable, and rather wicked ... and Bobby is quite the opposite.

So, are they destined to be together? We know the answer, but it's taking Bobby a while to grasp the reality.

The whole "opposites attract" belief is very widespread. It makes for a great movie plot, but isn't good for real life – research evidence suggests this belief isn't true. Some quotes from the book (pg 137) :
"Indeed, dozens of studies demonstrate that people with similar personality traits are more likely to be attracted to each other than people with dissimilar personality traits."

"The same rule applies to friendships, by the way. We're considerably more likely to hang out with people with similar than dissimilar personality traits."

"Similarity in personality traits isn't merely a good predictor of initial attraction. It's also a good predictor of marital stability and happiness."

"The 'like attracts like' conclusion extends beyond personality to our attitudes and values. The classic work of Donn Byrne and his colleagues demonstrates that the more similar someone's attitudes (for example, political views) are to ours, the more we tend to like that person."
The problem arises when people use the 'opposites attract' rule to guide their choices in partners, as Bobby has clearly done with Lulu ... sure, it's exciting to be around someone so different, but it's not a good decision for long-term relationships.

Bobby seems a bit more relaxed now, I hope that he's found greater peace of mind, and understands that Lulu isn't a good lamb for him.

I strongly recommend this book, it's fascinating to dip into. Here are a few of the other myths covered in the book (NB these statements are all wrong) :
#2 Some people are left-brained, others are right-brained

#6 Playing Mozart's music to infants boosts their intelligence

#12 Hypnosis is useful for retrieving memories of forgotten events

#18 Students learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles

#26 A positive attitude can stave off cancer

#29 Men and women communicate in completely different ways

#36 Our handwriting reveals our personality traits
I was surprised by many of these too!

While there are a host of books and web sites about debunking medical myths, this is the first book for the general public about psychology myths. It's also being used as a text book for uni psych students. It's written in an entertaining style, is quite funny in parts and easy to read, and includes all the references to the research papers cited if you want to look further.

So - hopefully Bobby can move on now, and find himself a lamb of similar temperament ... we can only hope!


  1. I really am going to have to argue with No 18. Having seen my son struggle with different teaching styles that go completely against his own learning styles, and have much more success when the learning styles are a closer fit, I don't really see how this can be a myth!

  2. I know, I was surprised by that one as well. I think the main problem lies in the lack of well done research. The authors say :

    "There are no clear implications for teaching practices [using learning styles] because few well-conducted studies provide evidence, and those that do offer inconsistent advice."

  3. Oh, this book sounds very interesting! I'm off to order a copy now!

  4. Hi Bobby Ram!!!
    I have to take #18 to task. I did lots of work on Auditory, Visual and Kinaesthetic teaching and learning styles I believe it is more positive to match teaching and learning styles if possible. (Don't get me started!!!)
    Much bubble wrapping here!!!!

  5. They surprise me. I know that I am a visual learner and learn better when shown something. For instance, I work better with knitting patterns that have photos.

  6. I don't think the authors are debating whether some people learn better with visual cues rather than verbal, for example. They're debating whether the LS (Learning Styles) method is a valid model in the classroom.

    They say that 1) there is no clear concept of LS - there are many different models, and no agreement on what the main learning styles are, despite decades of study (ie some do the visual/auditory/kinesthetic etc, while another model divides students into activists / reflector / theorists / pragmatists).

    2) There isn't a reliable and valid way to assess students' LS. Studies have "found no relationship between LS classifications and memory performance on visual, auditory and kinesthetic versions of a task". They suggest, however, that students may learn best depending on what they're trying to learn.

    3) There is little convincing evidence to support the effectiveness of matching instructors' teaching style to students' leaning styles. Studies supporting and discrediting the techniques are roughly equal. "That's mostly because certain teaching styles often yield better results than all others regardless of students' learning styles."

    4) "Can educators train teachers to adapt their teaching style to match students' learning styles? Again, the commercial claims outstrip the scientific evidence."

    They feel that not addressing a student's weaknesses (in learning style) actually does them a disservice, as outside of the classroom, different learning styles are not likely to be offered.

    That said, I do feel that approaching subject matter in different ways can help some students, especially those with learning difficulties, like dyslexia, Asperger's etc. And I don't think the authors are disputing that some of us will prefer to receive information in one way or another (visual vs verbal etc).

    Mind you, my daughter has ADHD, and has a lot of literacy problems with spelling and reading. When we were home schooling, I tried so many different ways of helping her learn, including kinesthetic things like hopping around while memorising spelling. It didn't really seem to make any difference. She's got better slowly at spelling over the years largely through being online and typing a lot - and she's still pretty bad at it, LOL :)

  7. Well I'm glad to see that Bobby is off the booze. A sheep with a hangover is a pitiful thing indeed.

    And I have to agree that those who share your core values are a lot easier to live with. different interests can add zest to a marriage - different life-styles make for too much work to keep a relationship going. Keep reading, Bobby!

  8. Thankfully most of these aren't really psychology things and rather some flim flam that someone came up with and called psychology.


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