The Matching Hypothesis

Matching Hypothesis- the idea that individuals are attracted to people of similar perceived attractiveness

The matching hypothesis (Walster et al., 1966) suggests that people realise at a young age that not everybody can form relationships with the most attractive people, so it is important to evaluate their own attractiveness and from this, partners which are the most attainable.

If a person always went for people “out of their league” in terms of physical attractiveness, they may never find a partner which would evolutionarily foolish. This identification of those who have a similar level of attraction, and therefore provide a balance between the level of competition (intra-sexual) and positive traits is referred to as matching.


Brigham (1971) found that physically attractive people are seen as having desirable personality characteristics, including being sociable, interesting, exciting and sexually warm, supporting the idea of the Halo effect where people’s whole personality is judged on the basis that they are physically attractive.

Gunnell & Ceci (2010) found that physically less attractive people are 22% more likely to be convicted in the courts of law and to get prison sentences of on average 22 months longer than physically attractive people. This supports the Halo effect that physically attractive people are generally seen as more trustworthy than lesser physically attractive people.

Murstein (1972) asked participants to assess from photographs the physical attractiveness levels of genuine couples and non-genuine couples (who had been put together for the purpose of the study). It was found that the real couples were more likely to be judged as of similar levels of attractiveness to each other than the non-genuine couples, thus supporting the matching hypothesis.

Taylor et al (2011) used profiles and photographs from an online dating site to assess the matching hypothesis, finding that initial attraction (assessed by whether communication was requested) was based on levels of physical attractiveness, which did not support the matching hypothesis. However replies were more likely to be sent to individuals who were judged as of similar levels of physical attractiveness and agreements to ‘communicate’ were also more likely to occur among couples of similar physical attractiveness. This suggests the matching hypothesis applies more to later stages of the dating process rather than explaining initial attraction.


  • Walster et al’s original matching hypothesis stated that individuals would desire to partner someone as socially desirable as themselves. However over time the hypothesis has come to be regarded as one focused solely on levels of physical attractiveness, something it was not orientated towards.
  • In an earlier study Walster et al (1966) actually found that participants liked people who were more physically attractive and that physical attractiveness was the best indicator by both males and females of wanting to see someone again. This goes against the matching hypothesis though when asked months later it was found that participants who actually did date their partner again were of similar levels of physical attractiveness, which supports the hypothesis.
  • In many cultures, such as those practicing arranged marriages senior family members are regarded as better judges of who is compatible as a partner for their children and therefore attractiveness will be judged on factors other than physical attractiveness.