Social Psychology – Helping and Altruism

Being helpful has always been considered a positive and valuable trait, and the lore from cultures all over the world includes ‘being kind and helpful’ as a character trait of its most popular heroes. In more modern times, Pro-social behavior (or being helpful to others even when there is no apparent benefit to oneself) has been a topic of interest for research as well [1]. Scientists are interested in trying to understand what factors encourage such behaviors and what factors inhibit it, so that it becomes possible for them to suggest ways to encourage and support the development of pro-social and altruistic behavior in their communities [2, 4]. Most people like to believe that they are helpful. But often, a need for help often goes unanswered even when others who can help are present. There are times when people seem inhibited from helping others – an effect called the ‘Bystander effect’ [1, 3]. Particularly due to the pervasive nature of this Bystander Effect, Altruism, which is the unselfish concern for others, has been a fascinating study for them, as altruistic persons tend to help others even at personal cost [1].

When do people help?

People seem to need certain cues before they can offer help in a social context [3]. Firstly, they need to perceive that there is a problem that requires their attention. When people are preoccupied with something, they may not immediately realize that someone needs their help [1]. This is more so when they are preoccupied (for example, rushed for time), and believe that their task is more urgent than the other person’s need for help. Secondly, they need to recognize that there is a need to respond [1]. Often, the cues presented in a social situation may not be clear. For example, two people arguing may or may not appreciate an intervention. Also, when other bystanders are present and they have chosen not to interfere; it is taken as a sign that one should also stay back [1]. Such pluralistic ignorance stems from the assumption that when one is unsure about the appropriate response, social cues play an important role in deciding how to respond. People seem to believe that others could have more information than they do; and so they should follow the lead of these others [3].

Even when an individual recognizes the need for help, they need to feel personally responsible to act [3]. People tend to wait for some expert on the problem to act before them, often believing that ‘they could do more harm’. The number of bystanders also affects the feeling of responsibility, as with each increase in the number of bystanders, an individual believe that ‘someone else will be able to help’ [3, 4]. This diffusion of responsibility across all bystanders is often the reason why people sometimes do not receive help even when a number of people are present, but do when only one of two others are present [3]. Scientists have found that people really do delay responding to problems when there are many others around who are also not responding, and wonder if this is because people want to conform to the majority, or whether they think that others may have information that they don’t. It seems that both these thoughts effect the decision to act at different points [4]. Once the decision to act is taken, the person can only be of help if they have the expertise of the knowledge to do so. When someone believes that they do not have the ability to help, they may stand back even when they wish to help. On the other hand, a person who chooses to respond and has the expertise must then complete the last step of actually helping by performing the required actions [1].

Reasons why people help

There are many different hypotheses as to why people offer to help others. The most unselfish hypothesis suggests that people help others Out of empathy for them, and because they would like to see the lot of others improved [2, 4]. Other hypotheses that predict helpful behaviour are more selfish. One of them suggests that people help others to maintain a good mood. Since helping others is a ‘good thing’, it can help maintain a positive mood, and change a negative mood because an individual feels good about themselves when they offer help [1, 5]. It must be noted that when the help offered can negatively impact the person helping (for example, by making them late for an appointment), people are less likely to offer help to manage their moods. A third hypothesis states that people help others because they Feel that it should be done, and believe that helping others is a social act that will gather them positive social capital [3]. Finally, evolutionary studies propose that people help others who are similar to them (or may carry similar genetic material) in order to facilitate the survival of genetic material that they value (because it is similar to their own) [1].

Who helps others?

Some people just happen to be more helpful, and may even inconvenience themselves to help others. Such ‘naturally’ helpful people seem to have some traits in common, including [2, 4]:

  • Empathy – Helpful people are more able to empathize with the perspectives of others, and so feel motivated to reduce their distress.
  • Just world belief – Such people also believe that there should be justice in the world, and offering help to someone who needs it is the right thing to do. They also believe that good behavior is rewarded, and that the effort they take to help others will be rewarded in some way.
  • Social responsibility – These people typically feel a sense of social responsibility, and so are motivated to reset order by helping others achieve their goals, particularly when these goals are perceived as being for a valuable cause [4].
  • Internal locus of control – Helpful people are more likely than non-helpers to believe that they can control the events in their lives, so that they will be able to maximize the benefits received and reduce problems through their own actions.
  • Lower ego-centricism – Typically helpers are less self-centered, and more interested in the conditions of others lives. They are also more able to keep their personal agendas aside temporarily in order to focus on those of another person.

An individual having these traits is said to have an Altruistic personality, and such people are more likely to be involved in social causes because they are motivated to do so [3]. These traits slowly develop in an individual through life, and can be encouraged in children if they are provided with cues that value such behavior [3].


[1] Baron, Robert A. “Prosocial Behavior”. In Social Psychology, (12th ed.). Mumbai: Pearson Education, 2009. Pp. 302 – 333.

[2] DeLamater, John D. & Myers, Daniel J. “Altruism and Aggression”. In Social Psychology (7th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011. Pp. 221 – 244.

[3] Kassin, Saul M., Fein, Steven & Markus, Hazel Rose. “Helping others” In Social psychology (8th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2010. Pp. 389 – 434.

[4] Baumeister, Roy F. & Bushman Brad J. “Prosocial behaviour: Doing what’s best for others”. In Social Psychology & Human Nature (2nd ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 255 – 586.

[5] Weinstein, Netta & Ryan, Richard M. “When helping helps: Autonomous motivation for prosocial behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98(2), 2010, 222-244.


Social Psychology:
The Controversy of Obedience

As children, we are taught that our ‘being good’ is contingent on listening to elders and obeying instructions. Obedience may be described as a ‘willingness to agree with the directions of an individual with authority’ [1]. Under most circumstances, this obedience helps a child learn academic information, develop personal rules and understand social norms. It also keeps the child safe when he/she obeys instructions about things like crossing the road and touching electrical appliances. Over time, the child learns to follow social norms, and behave in a socially acceptable way that enables them to contribute to an ordered and productive society [2].

So is it a good thing?

Obedience allows people to develop functional responses to social situations. It helps maintain productive workplaces, be a part of a family and other social units, allows participation in sporting and cultural activities and enables them to provide pro-social responses to problems [3]. This makes obedience an important trait to develop and cherish. But while on the whole Obedience is a valuable trait, there are conditions in which it is less than ideal to be obedient. Crime rings and dictatorships provide examples of how people commit atrocious crimes against other humans and nature simply because ‘they have been told to’. Historical instances of ethnic cleansing like the holocaust also demonstrate the horrific results of people ‘just following orders’ [3]. Such obedience reduces the opportunity to use personal agency, and people often act against their wishes and better judgment. It is thus called destructive obedience.

Describing destructive obedience

Two of the most famous experiments that demonstrated the concerns associated with obedience were conducted by Milgram in the 1960’s and Zimbardo in 1971. In Milgram’s studies, people were asked to ‘help experimenters understand how punishment affected learning’ by providing electric shocks to individuals who made mistakes in a learning task. While in reality no actual shocks were given to the learner (who was also an experimenter), the participant was made to believe that they were giving shocks of progressively higher voltage. Some participants could see who they were punishing, while others had no direct contact. Over a series of studies, Milgram found that a staggeringly high percentage of participants continued to punish the ‘learner’ even though they personally were distressed by what they were doing. Later research demonstrates that people exhibit similar levels of obedience across genders, different cultures and experimental and real world conditions [4, 5]. A model of behavior developed to explain such forms of destructive obedience was also found to explain the behavior of Nazi soldiers who killed large numbers of Jews in an attempt to follow orders [6].

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment seems to offer an explanation for why people sometimes behave in this manner. In this experiment, a group of mentally healthy students were divided into two groups and assigned to the roles of guards and prisoners in an experiment that ran for a week. Students playing guards had power to discipline the students playing prisoners; and the researcher observed that both groups obeyed instructions and stuck to their roles even when the situation became stressful and involved violent confrontations between groups. It was proposed that if an individual chooses to commit to a course of action, they then find it difficult to decide when to stop, and allow the situation to continue even though they feel distressed about it [7].

Both personality and situational characteristics affect the way people will behave when commanded to do something they are not comfortable with. Destructive obedience is usually seen in rapidly developing situations. People with authoritarian personalities are more likely to be obedient to authority, particularly when their task involves commanding subordinates [1, 8]. People seem to obey even nominal authority, particularly in low cost situations. Also, when people are able to justify their actions by focusing on the need for obedience, or feel that they are not responsible for their behavior (because they have been commanded by an authority figure) they are more likely to engage in destructive obedience. Finally, lesser contact with the person being punished increases the chance of obedience [8].

Reducing destructive obedience

Such destructive obedience is rarely useful; and researchers have tried to find ways to reduce its occurrence. Empirical evidence suggests that there are factors that challenge the need to obey. Some of them are:

  • Reducing proximity of the authority figure: Milgarm’s research and others since have found that distance from the person commanding obedience can reduce the need to obey. People tend to use more personal agency when they are alone, and encouraging distance can help reduce destructive obedience.
  • Questioning their power: People obey someone because they believe that this someone has power over them or the situation without realizing that they have embodied the person with power. Creating circumstances where this power may be questioned can allow people to evaluate the need for obedience [1].
  • Presence of dissenting other / group: People are more likely to obey when alone as they only have social cues encouraging obedience and none against it. When they find themselves in the presence of a dissenting (or even neutral) other, they are less likely to obey against their judgment. Also, obedience becomes less likely with each new other recognized [8]
  • Cues to disobedience: If the individual has been given specific cues to disobedience (“do it only if you feel right” / “you may stop when you want to”), they are likely to use this information to cease obeying. This seems to happen because the individual receives cues that it is acceptable to disobey [1, 4].
  • Increasing information and contact with victim: Destructive obedience is strongly associated with depersonalization of the victim. This means that the victim’s ability to feel, think and act is stripped from them. When contact with the victim increases and information about their experiences becomes available, people are less likely to hurt them [1, 4]. It is important to note that people will use both personal and empirical information, but this information needs to be freely available so that it is received without active effort on part of the dictator [2].


[1] Baron, Robert A. “Social Influence”. In Social Psychology, (12th ed.). Mumbai: Pearson Education, 2009. Pp. 268 – 301.

[2] Bicchieri, Cristina, and Erte Xiao. “Words or deeds? Choosing what to know about others.” Synthese: An International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science 187(1). 2012. Pp. 49.

[3] Baumeister, Roy F. & Bushman Brad J. “Prosocial behaviour: Doing what’s best for others”. In Social Psychology & Human Nature (2nd ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 255 – 586.

[4] Hogg, Michael A. “Influence and leadership”. In Fiske, Susan T., Gilbert, Daniel T. & Gardner, Lindzey. Handbook of Social Psychology (2nd ed.). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2010, pp. 1166 – 1207.

[5] Burger, Jerry, Girgis, Z. & Manning, C. “In their own words: Explaining obedience to authority through an examination of participants’ comments”. Social Psychological and Personality Science 2. 2011. Pp. 460–466

[6] Douglas, Navarick J. “Historical psychology and the Milgram paradigm: tests of an experimentally derived model of defiance using accounts of massacres by Nazi Reserve Police Battalion 101.” The Psychological Record 62(1), 2012. Pp.133.

[7] Bocchiaro, Piero; Zimbardo, P. “Defying unjust authority: An exploratory study”. Current Psychology 29. 2010. Pp. 155–170.

[8] Kassin, Saul M., Fein, Steven & Markus, Hazel Rose. “Conformity” In Social psychology (8th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2010. Pp. 251 – 292.

Further reading:

Milgram’s experiments:

Zimbardo’s experiment:

Social Psychology: Conformity and Compliance

People usually like to believe that their actions and thoughts are mostly their own. But in reality, they are often affected by subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) forms of Social Influence [1]. Social influence is not a bad thing, and can encourage behavior that is beneficial to the individual as well as to society at large [2]. People also assert some influence over others just as they are being influenced by them. Such social influence can be experienced and applied at the social level (called Conformity) or at the personal level (called Compliance) [1].


Conformity occurs through the process of ‘Following Rules’. These include social and group related rules and codes of conduct, including legal ones [1, 2]. For example, people switch off their phones in a theatre or library, wear formal clothes to a wedding, stop at a red light and offer payment for services rendered because these are expected behaviors. People follow such rules because they believe that these rules are meaningful, and that they protect the interests of self as well as others. The notion that everybody benefits when rules are followed is what encourages people to conform [2, 3].

Personal benefit in conforming

  • Being right (Experiencing Informational Influence): People are motivated to be correct in their responses to the world around them. When a large number of people are observed to follow a said rule, people are likely to believe that they would also be ‘right’ in following it. Responses to social situations are rarely obvious, and so people take cues and learn from the behaviors of others in deciding their own [1, 2].
  • Being liked (Experiencing Normative Influence): When someone falls in with the group norms, they are more likely to be liked by others in the group. When an individual values membership to a particular group, they are motivated to be liked by the other members of that group, and thus, they become motivated to conform. Such conformity is learnt when a person receives praise or recognition for following rules, and when they receive some form of punishment for breaking them [1, 2].

Factors that mediate conformity

A number of factors affect the extent to which a person will conform to prescribed rules. One of the most important ones is the Cohesiveness of the group, which is the extent to which the group members like or are attracted to the group, and are motivated to be a part of the group [3, 4]. The more cohesive a group is, the more motivated the members are to conform for fear of being rejected by other group members. The evidence for the effect of cohesiveness on behavior is compelling, and has been found in a wide number of contexts [2].

The second factor that can affect conformity is the size of the group. When we are faced with just one other person, we are more likely to assert a difference in opinion. But as the group size increases to three and four persons, it becomes more and more difficult for an individual to disagree [4]. On the other hand, when a large number of people seem to be unanimous, people are not as strongly influenced, since agreement among a large number of persons is seen as a sign of collusion [2]. So when a small group of four or five friends provides information about what is expected at the next school event, an individual is more likely to take them seriously; but when all members on a movie franchise fan – site are vehement about a change in the story, one does not feel pressured to contribute even if one agrees.

Group norms also affect conformity. Descriptive group norms suggest the most popular behaviors in a situation, while injunctive norms suggest the ideal behaviors in that situation. Typically, people are more likely to follow descriptive norms where they are available; but if an injunctive norm is established or triggered, it is more likely to assert its influence [1,4]. For example, if people visiting a particular location usually chuck thrash in the general direction of the dustbin without ensuring that it actually falls inside; a new entrant is likely to start doing the same thing. But when a notice is pasted that encourages people to deposit thrash inside the dustbin, people are more likely to take the effort.


The process of Agreeing to a request is called Compliance. While conformity involves asking the each individual in the group to agree with the rules or notions proposed, compliance requires one individual to agree with a particular request made of them [5, 6]. There are rarely any direct costs of rejecting requests of compliance (though there may be social costs). For example, when someone asks us to read a pamphlet, contribute to a cause, or pass a book, they are asking for compliance. We may choose to comply, and are free to refuse. But when we do, we may be seen as snobbish, selfish or mean. People do not always comply with every request made of them, but they are more likely to do when one or more of certain criteria are met [1, 3, 6]. Thus, compliance is more likely to occur when:

  • We like the person making the request: People are more likely to respond to requests made by someone they like, or admire as compared to requests made by someone they don’t. People hope that by complying with the requests of such persons, their liking will be reciprocated [5].
  • When they have previously made a commitment: Once an individual has committed to doing something, they are more likely to comply with additional requests as they like to appear consistent [1].
  • Scarcity of a resource: When a particular item is valuable to an individual, they are more likely to comply with a request to procure that item if they are informed that it has become scarce [5].
  • Reciprocation: When an individual has previously received a favor from someone, they are more likely to comply with a request made by that person. This happens because people feel obligated to pay back, and wish to be seen as ‘nice persons’ [5].
  • Social validation:  If complying with a request is viewed as the correct thing to do (like signing a petition to save the tigers); people are more likely to comply, than when they do not believe that the action is a valid response with the situation [5].
  • Response to authority: When the request to comply comes from someone who is (or looks like) an authority figure that one accepts, compliance increases [1].


[1] Baron, Robert A. “Social Influence”. In Social Psychology, (12th ed.). Mumbai: Pearson Education, 2009. Pp. 268 – 301.

[2] DeLamater, John D. & Myers, Daniel J. “Group Cohesion and Comformity”. In Social Psychology (7th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011. Pp. 276 – 297.

[3] Kassin, Saul M., Fein, Steven & Markus, Hazel Rose. “Conformity” In Social psychology (8th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2010. Pp. 251 – 292.

[4] Baumeister, Roy F. & Bushman Brad J. “Prosocial behaviour: Doing what’s best for others”. In Social Psychology & Human Nature (2nd ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 255 – 286.

[5] Baumeister, Roy F. & Bushman Brad J. “Social Influence and Persuasion”. In Social Psychology & Human Nature (2nd ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 223 – 254.

[6] DeLamater, John D. & Myers, Daniel J. “Social Influence and Persuasion”. In Social Psychology (7th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011. Pp. 197 – 220.

Social Psychology – Understanding Love

Love is often considered the domain of bards and writers, and maybe even philosophers; but not of scientists. In fact, scientists have been just as fascinated with the process of falling in love, being in love and even falling out of love [1]. Neuroscientists have studied brain patterns typical of people at different stages in a relationship, and sociologists have tried to understand the impact of social and cultural norms on the way love manifests itself. It is left to social psychologists to understand how an individual experiences the event of falling in love, how they define their intimate relationships and what different patterns of intimate relationships exist [2].

The very popular – Passion!

The most popular form of love is called ‘Passionate love’, and is an intense and often unrealistic (and unsustainable) emotional response to another person [3]. People find it difficult to describe this experience, possibly since the logical description of the experience requires effort of the left hemisphere of the brain, while the actual experience seems to be concentrated in processes that occur in the right hemisphere [1]. Although the stuff of fairy- tales, an approximation of passionate love can be developed even in a laboratory setting by asking people to hold hands or gaze into each other’s eyes. This may be due to the associations that people have between such acts and the event of being in love [4]. It may also be that evolutionarily, people are primed by their genes to form interpersonal bonds when they meet an appropriate partner, as the formation of such bonds are more likely to be associated with the production of an offspring and the care of that offspring [1].

An important factor in understanding the different forms that romantic relationships seem to take is the individual’s Sociosexuality. This variable suggests the extent to which sexual satisfaction forms part of the motivation to form and maintain relationships [1]. People who have unrestricted sociosexuality are more likely to form relationships based on sexual attraction, are more comfortable with transient relationships and are less concerned with emotional closeness and commitment. On the other hand people with restricted sociosexuality seem to believe that sexual satisfaction is closely linked with committed intimate relationships; and disapprove of relationships formed on the basis of sexual attraction alone [1].

It seems that a number of different events need to occur for someone to fall in love [4]. First of all, culturally acceptable romantic images need to be available in order for the individual to form an idea of being able to fall in love. Secondly, they need to meet the appropriate person. The exact characteristics that define ‘appropriateness’ differ based on factors like gender, sexual orientation, age, cultural norms, and personal expectations. Finally, the person needs to experience strong emotional arousal that can be interpreted as love [1, 3]. Given the right set of conditions, people tend to interpret any emotional response from frustration to sexual arousal as a sign of being in love. Most cultures have some form of socially accepted image for ‘people in love’. These are transmitted through children’s tales, stories, literature and examination of the lives of public figures. Using these images, as well as information about their cultural and personal needs, people are able to decide the characteristics of the person they could love. If it becomes possible to share an emotional experience with such a person, the individual may start to ‘fall in love’.

This may perhaps explain why some people (prototypically women) reject romantic overtures of persons they ‘consider just a friend’. It may be that this person does not fit their idea of a romantic partner, or that they have not been able to experience significant emotional arousal in the presence of that individual.

Types of love

When people claim that they are in love, or in a relationship; they can mean one of many different things. Given the different motivations that people can have to find a romantic partner, it is not surprising that their descriptions of their relationships are so different [4]. Research by Hendrick and Hendrick has identified six different love styles that people seem to follow [1, 4].

  • Passionate love: It is characterized by intense attraction and sexual arousal, and has been emphasized by both sexes.
  • Friendship love: This is a gentler from of love, based on a well-established knowledge of each other. This form of love is more emphasized by women.
  • Game – playing love: This form of love is shallower, and based on excitement. It has been found to be associated with unhappy relationships, and seems to be mentioned more by men.
  • Possessive love: This type of love is often found to be associated with insecurities in the person who reports it, as well as with inefficient attachment styles. Women who report such a form of love also tend to report the presence of aggression in the relationship.
  • Logical love: This style of love is based on more pragmatic factors (and thus, it is often scorned upon by the believers of romantic love). Women seem to report logical love more frequently.
  • Selfless love: This is another popular notion of love, and involves sacrificing personal interests to support those of the partner.

Another conceptualization of love was provided by Sternberg, who believed that love has three major components – Intimacy, Commitment and Passion [1]. An individual may experience any one of seven forms of love depending of the components of love that were experienced. Intimacy is similar to the concept of friendship, passion is associated with emotional and sexual arousal, and commitment is the extent to which the individual is invested in the relationship [2]. According to this theory, people can move from one kind of love to another as their relationship progresses. Sternberg also suggests that while people most aspire to experience a consummate love that encompasses all three components, this form of love is the most difficult to attain [2].


[1] Baron, Robert A. “Interpersonal Attraction and Close Relationships”. In Social Psychology, (12th ed.). Mumbai: Pearson Education, 2009. Pp. 224 – 267.

[2] Baumeister, Roy F. & Bushman Brad J. “Close Relationships: Passion, Intamacy and Sexuality”. In Social Psychology & Human Nature (2nd ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 351 – 390.

[3] DeLamater, John D. & Myers, Daniel J. “Interpersonal Attraction and Relationships”. In Social Psychology (7th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011. Pp. 144 – 165.

[4] Kassin, Saul M., Fein, Steven & Markus, Hazel Rose. “Attraction and close relationships” In Social psychology (8th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2010. Pp. 203 – 250.



Social Psychology – Human Attraction

Humans live in societies that are based on mutual attraction and trust. People tend to spend more time and show more involvement in people they like, suggesting that interpersonal attraction – the extent to which others are evaluated as likable or not – is an important factor that governs social relationships [1]. This attraction enables people to meet others and interact with them, form friendships, and even form more intimate relationships based on love and commitment [2]. Although each individual meets many others in the course of their lives, they form relationships with only a few of those people, suggesting that there are particular conditions that lead to attraction and the opportunities to form an acquaintance with people that one is attracted to.

There are a number of Factors that affect human attraction, or at least the opportunity for attraction [1].

  • Proximity: Research shows that the closer two people live, work or study, the more likely are they to meet each other regularly enough to form a relationship of some sort [2]. Studies have shown that students living in dormitories are most likely to form relationships with others on the same floor, and to a lesser extent with people living a floor above or below. Couples living in apartment structures are more likely to strike up friendships with other couples living in nearby apartments, as compared to couples living in a different section of the complex [1, 3]. It seems that proximity allows people to interact more easily, and provides them with more opportunities to interact. This allows the exchange of enough information to assist attraction.
  • Repeated exposure: Cognitive psychology suggests that people form a more favorable attitude towards any object that they become familiar with. It is believed that a novel stimulus (in this case person) is associated with a small measure of anxiety that is a function of novelty. As familiarity increases with repeated exposure, this anxiety reduces, and thus causes a positive attitude [2]. This is what happens when people (or other stimuli) ‘grow on one’. This even occurs when one is not aware of being exposed to the person (like seeing them at a meeting or rally without really noticing). The only caveat to this rule is when the initial contact is particularly negative. At such times, the negative attitude may actually become strengthened with further interactions [1].
  • Emotional response: One’s emotional state when meeting a new person can significantly affect the way they feel about that person [1]. When a stranger does something that arouses some kind of emotional response (by helping in carrying bags, or by pushing to get ahead of the queue), they are evaluated on the basis of that emotion. Thus, the person who helps with bags would receive a positive evaluation, while the person who pushes by would receive a negative one. People also form associations between strangers and an already existing emotional state; particularly if that emotional state is a strong one [4]. For example, someone who is elated about a good score is likely to evaluate anyone he meets in a benevolent light, while someone who is irritated with the traffic they just drove through may develop a negative attitude towards someone who is waiting to meet them. people are more likely to feel attracted towards others who are associated with a positive emotional experience in some way; and are thus, more likely to be attracted towards them and more motivated to form a relationship. This is also suggested by the Affect-centered model of attraction.
  • Physical characteristics: Attractive persons are evaluated more favorably as compared to less attractive persons [3]. The Attractive persons do have an advantage as they are approached more frequently, giving them more opportunities to form relationships. This makes them more popular and helps them develop good inter-personal skills [4]. The body type of the individual and their behavior also influences the way they are perceived. People seem to form positive evaluations of persons whose behavior approximates that described by the prototype of the category they belong to (gender, age or occupation). These people are also deemed more attractive.
  • Situational characteristics: The context in which an individual is viewed also affects the way they are perceived [3]. When seen along with more attractive persons, they are rated as less attractive, while in the company of less attractive persons they are rated as more attractive. The ratings given by same sex peers also play a role, and individuals who are known to be considered attractive are rated higher as compared to others. Finally, when someone believes that their chances to finding a kindred soul are reducing (scarcity of resources); they tend to become more lenient with their ratings [1].

Human Attraction: Becoming Acquainted

It seems evident that a lot of factors influence who is considered attractive, and who is not. But even when we come across someone who we are attracted towards, we do not always form a relationship with them. It is necessary that an individual has a need to interact with someone in order for them to act on their being attracted. Most people have a strong need to affiliate with others [1]. Although different people exhibit this need at different levels, almost everyone shows at least some need to meet others and form relationships with them. People with a high need to affiliate tend to take more effect to interact with others in general, while those low on this need are more aloof in their inter-personal relationships. Situational changes can also affect an individual’s need to affiliate [3]. When aroused by a particular event of interest, people tend to show a higher need to affiliate. This is possibly what makes strangers interact and form relationships during times of duress.

Similarity with the individual is another factor that leads to the development of an acquaintance [3]. People whose attitudes are similar to one’s own are considered more attractive and help create a sense of balance – a positive mental state that is achieved when others validate our opinions [2]. Besides attitudes, people are more likely to form acquaintances with others who are similar in one or more ways, be it gender, age, physical appearance, area of study or work, and such other factors. This may be because a similar other not only validates our choices, but also provides an opportunity to understand how we are viewed by outsiders [2, 4].

As similarity increases, so does a reciprocal liking [1]. A similar other is more likely to evaluate one in a positive light, since they are able to understand and empathize with one’s motivations better, understand behavioral choices and reinforce a positive self-image. Such reciprocity then further increases the attraction between two people, and enables them to develop their acquaintance further [3, 4].


[1] Baron, Robert A. “Interpersonal Attraction and Close Relationships”. In Social Psychology, (12th ed.). Mumbai: Pearson Education, 2009. Pp. 224 – 267.

[2] Baumeister, Roy F. & Bushman Brad J. “Attraction and Exclusion”. In Social Psychology & Human Nature (2nd ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 232 – 350.

[3] DeLamater, John D. & Myers, Daniel J. “Interpersonal Attraction and Relationships”. In Social Psychology (7th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2011. Pp. 144 – 165.

[4] Kassin, Saul M., Fein, Steven & Markus, Hazel Rose. “Attraction and Close Relationships” In Social psychology (8th ed.). Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2010. Pp. 203 – 250.