It is often believed that opposites attract, but how much truth is there to this common assertion?
In Andrew Schwartz’s study, “Birds of a Feather Do Flock Together,” the Stony Brook computer science professor found that personality similarities are common among romantic partners and friends. The implications of this finding oppose what Schwartz calls the “unintuitive finding that romantic partners are less similar or any more similar than friends, in terms of the personality.”
“I don’t find it surprising because I think people seek comfort in relationships, and I think that comes through being with someone who is similar to you,” Casey Pinner, a senior studying social work, said. “Someone who likes to spend Friday nights at home would likely not date someone who parties every Friday night. I think it’s common for people in relationships to be like each other than different. But I also think it depends on what the differences are and if they’re something relatively unimportant, as opposed to something like values or wants in life.”
In the past, personality surveys concerning whether or not similarities exist between the personalities of two people in a relationship measured their findings based on self-reported questionnaires, which made these surveys susceptible to the respondent’s biases, also known as the “reference group effect.”
In an effort to collect more accurate data and combat respondent biases, Schwartz, Youyou Wu, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell used the app “MyPersonality” to gather information regarding some 295,320 participants on Facebook.
The team focused questionnaire scores alongside Facebook data, such as the pages a user has liked, the status updates he or she has made, the language they use and the long-term behavior of the user. With this information, the study was able to show a quantifiable existence of similarities between the personalities of those in relationships of all kinds.
“I think it’s possible for people of different personalities to have a happy relationship,” Rob Mamys, a junior marine biology major, said. “I think similar personalities lead to people who enjoy doing similar things meeting. Also, since they have similar personalities, they are more likely to start a relationship. I believe this to be the more common occurrence, but not an absolute truth.”
These similar personality traits among partners might not be initially visible.
“When I first met my boyfriend I thought we were pretty opposite, but the more I got to know him and get comfortable, the more I realized our humor is very similar and our personalities are pretty similar as well,” senior English major Kathleen Kissane said. “Our interests might be a little different, like which sports we like or what hobbies we have, but when it comes to us as people, like our values and personalities, we’re similar.”
Although she agreed with the outcome of the study, Kissane questioned the means the researchers took to get to their conclusion.
“I think deciding who would be compatible based on likes and shares on Facebook or whatever isn’t accurate,” she said. “I know I personally put a bunch of random sports teams I liked just because there was a section on Facebook that asked for five different teams. I don’t know much about any of them.”
In response to these concerns, Schwartz assured that the data collected incorporated the history of a user along with a user’s immediate actions and behaviors.
“The models are fit to measurements which take into account people’s performance,” he said in reference to the personality models used in the app.
In this way, the study took into account the projection of personalities, looking at why someone would project themselves the way they do online. Schwartz would say that this projection, which is also apparent in our daily life and on the internet, is an unavoidable characteristic of modernity. For the purpose of the study, researchers could use Facebook to check on users’ unique online behaviors without the concern of anonymity, as Facebook posts show the names of users, Schwartz said.
While the study shows that there are commonalities between the personalities of people in relationships, it is still unknown whether these similarities existed prior to the start of the relationship or whether the people became more similar as a result of prolonged exposure to one another.
“I think they start off similar rather than change,” Pinner said. “I think their similarities are part of the reason they were attracted to each other in the first place. … It depends on the level of importance of the similarity or difference. For instance, it may be easy to change the amount of times you do laundry to fit your relationship, but something like that isn’t likely an ingrained part of who you are.”
This study also gives a better understanding of users based on their social media use. It questions, to what extent are social media users genuine online? To what extent is the personality portrayed on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter just a performance? And what are the tangible, real-life effects of our social media profiles on a user’s daily behaviors, mannerisms and overall personality?
“If you’re acting the way you want to be seen, what’s the difference between that and who you are?” Schwartz asked.