Do Opposites Attract?
Being a mixed race child, I was told by my mom about how my chances of disease and genetic defects were less than most people’s. The distance between her Asian genes and my dad’s European genes would result in very little overlap of dangerous recessive genes, meaning that my chances of survival would be better than someone with similar race parents. A phrase that many people often hear when looking for an ideal spouse is “opposites attract.” While some may choose not to believe this statement, many important qualities a spouse exhibits actually do follow the tend of being opposite from each other.
Opposites in Physical Attributes
Although men and women exhibit many similar qualities, traits that differentiate us from being a man or a woman tend to be more opposite than some may think. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the population, 97.7%, identify as being attracted to the opposite sex. From the viewpoint of evolutionary psychology, this phenomenon makes a lot of sense because in order to carry on our genes, we must mate with the opposite sex. However, most people are attracted to the opposite sex at first because of appearance, and not because of their intentions to continue their genetic lineage.
Men and women hold opposite physical characteristics. Pictured below is David Beckham, People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive of 2015, and Kate Upton, People Magazine’s Sexiest Woman Alive of 2015. Most people agree that Beckham and Upton are sex icons of today’s western society. Even if one did not know of Beckham or Upton, most people who look at the below pictures would likely agree that both exhibit highly attractive qualities. However, qualities that define men and women as attractive are not the same for each gender.
Qualities that typically make men more attractive are deemed as “masculine” while qualities that make women attractive are referred to as “feminine”. While both give the same end result, making one more attractive, they are different. Look at Beckham and Upton’s facial features. Most agree that they both have appealing faces, but Beckham’s face shape is angular and sharp, while Upton’s face shape is soft and round. Furthermore, Beckham’s hair is short, while Upton sports long hair. Differences in their features don’t cease with their faces; men typically have much broader and muscular shoulders and torso than women, who show much softer and smaller features on the torso area. In fact, it was found that the ideal waist to hip ratio for men is much higher than it is for women (.9 for men and .7 for women), showing a great difference in ideal body size for men and women. Additionally, although having large breasts is an attractive female trait, the opposite is true for men. Many of the distinguishing physical qualities of men and women are a result of hormones in the body. All of these masculine and feminine qualities, as demonstrated by Beckham and Upton, result in highly attractive men and women but are contrasting for each gender.
Evolutionary psychologists attribute the difference of these physical qualities back to a more primitive time of human nature. Hundreds of years ago, in a more primitive time, men hunted for food while woman stayed home and took care of children. Men required the extra muscle in order to be successful in hunting, whereas a high fat content for women was necessary during pregnancies. Given the gender roles at the time, it was ideal that men had less fat and only lean muscle, explaining their typically lean, but larger build than women. Women, on the other hand, were responsible for more delicate duties, such as taking care of children and household tasks, and therefore did not need a large build. Having contrasting body types, therefore, was desirable for the roles the two genders played; although societal roles have changed, standards of attractiveness are based in the past and differing qualities in men and women.
Opposites in Biological Attributes
While most ideally want the ability to reproduce with a spouse, evolutionary psychologists also emphasize the importance of attraction based on a mate who will produce healthy offspring with us. The above physical characteristics are also signs of good health in an individual according to Kanazawa, already making them a good candidate. However, we can use genetics to further prove that opposites attract.
Have you ever heard that mixed breed dogs (mutts) are healthier than purebred dogs? A study at University of California, Davis confirms this to be a true statement. In this study, scientists looked at twenty-four genetic diseases that frequently occur in dogs. Among those twenty-four diseases, ten of the diseases were found to appear with significantly higher frequency in purebred dogs, while only one of the diseases appeared more frequently in mixed dogs (the rest were equal frequency for both mixed and purebred dogs), suggesting that purebred dogs were indeed more susceptible to genetic disease than mixed dogs. Biologists have seen this phenomenon for centuries now; Charles Darwin described it as “hybrid vigor” in 1876.
Hybrid vigor stems from the idea that the more heterozygous genes an individual has, the healthier they will be. Increased frequency of heterozygosity is linked to healthier individuals because of the lower frequency of recessive genes that form dangerous genetic diseases. This theory is supported by a study done by the Experimental Institute of Cereal Crops on corn crops. When two inbred species of corn, both with high frequencies of homozygous genes and physically small and diseased, were bred together to form new offspring, the resulting offspring were strong, large, and healthy. Hybrid vigor is well known among the farming community and has been used for decades to yield healthier and larger crops.
Hybrid vigor is not just apparent in dogs and plants, but evidence proves that it is apparent in humans too. A study done by Professor Bill Amos at Cambridge University looks at how genetic diversity of individuals in Kenya relates to resistance against parasites and infectious disease. The results showed that individuals with higher genetic diversity were significantly more resistant to parasites and infectious disease. Amazingly, almost fifty percent of individuals with low levels of genetic diversity could accurately be predicted to face death before the age of five. Those who lived became ill at a significantly higher rate than individuals with higher genetic diversity.
Furthermore, it is well known that another strong indicator of good health and attractiveness is facial symmetry on humans.
It turns out that high genetic diversity is linked to increased facial symmetry in individuals. In ongoing research currently being done by Professor Mark Shriver, Dr. Shriver examines degrees of facial symmetry on individuals and swabs their DNA to determine their genetic diversity. Preliminary results show a correlation between a larger genetic diversity and a higher degree of facial symmetry, suggesting that people with great genetic diversity have better health.
There is even proof that on a subconscious level, people are attracted to others who have different genes than their own. In an experiment done by evolutionary psychologist, Victor Johnson, Johnson has men sweat in a t-shirt. The t-shirts were later given to females and asked to choose which smelled the best. After genetic analysis, results showed the females chose shirts belonging to men with genes different from their own. Researchers attribute this to subtle chemical signals, pheromones, that help humans identify ideal genetic complements.
How does this relate to opposites attract? Two individuals with a large number of different homozygous genes typically produce stronger and healthier offspring with a higher proportion of heterozygous genes.
Opposites in Personalities
The Meyers-Brigg Personality types include sixteen total personality types, each with a four-letter code. The first and last letter represent how one interacts with one’s surroundings; the inner two represent one’s interpretation of it. The blue squares in the chart below depict ideal personality matches using Meyers-Briggs personality types. Each of these ideal pairings features opposite outer letters, supporting the theory that opposites attract. Having a partner who interacts with the world differently than oneself helps to maintain relationship stability. For example, an extrovert would encourage the introvert to branch out and be more social, while the introvert would encourage the extrovert to stay in every once in a while and take a break.
Type A personalities are usually characterized by competitive behavior, aggression, and achievement-oriented, whereas Type B tend to be more laid-back, less stressed, and passive. Having two Type A personalities often results in constant bickering; whereas two Type B individuals create a passive and unengaged relationship. However, combining the two types can result in a more perfect pairing.
On an online reddit post I made asking if others agreed whether opposites do attract in personalities, several redditers agreed. One commented:
“As someone who married the complete opposite type from myself, I just can’t stand being bored in a romantic relationship. I like figuring people out, so the person I spend the majority of my time around had better be interesting to me.”
People often desire the opportunity to perceive the world in a different way.
Interracial Marriage and Mixed Children
In recent years, U.S. census data, as analyzed by the Pew Research Institute, has shown a growing trend in interracial marriages. Fueled in part by improved transportation, exposure to other individuals, and the technology boom, individuals are increasingly able to foster a relationship with people across seas and nations.
Kanazawa claims that people are attracted to other races because attractiveness remains relatively unchanged across races. However, different races have the extra appeal of a different genetic pool. Thousands of years ago, geographic isolation caused less genetic variation amongst a single race, because the limited number of people in an area led to inbreeding. Therefore, mixing races, or hybrid vigor, is appealing due to increased frequency of heterozygous genes within the offspring.
Interracial relationships not only are genetically beneficial but also have powerful social implications. Mixing races introduces people to exciting new cultures, languages, and customs. For example, being a foreigner in a country where one doesn’t speak the language can be extremely intimidating, but if one’s spouse is native to that country, then the foreigner can become integrated in and familiar with the native culture. Additionally, since mixed race relations were illegal for many decades in the United States, the proliferation of multi-racial relationships helps end the stigma that “pure-race” individuals are superior, encouraging open-mindedness and acceptance while discouraging racism.
Children themselves also benefit from having parents from two different cultures because they not only have a genetic advantage over single-race individuals, but also are often exposed to both cultures. For example, many mixed children are taught multiple languages from birth, which enhances mental development and gives them a professional advantage later in life. Exposure to different cultures defeats stereotypes and stigmas, creating a more accepting generation.
Looking back now on what my mom used to tell me, it is clear to me now that she was correct about the genetic benefits of being mixed race. However, many of the benefits of interracial families stem from the idea of opposites attracting. From attractive physical traits to powerful genetics to exciting personalities, it is no wonder why my parents got married. I never truly noticed all the benefits that I, and my family, have received from being a part of an interracial family. When partners and their children are able to benefit from such great advantages, who wouldn’t think that opposites attract?