People do have a ‘type’ when it comes to dating, a new study reports.
If you’ve ever come out of a bad relationship hell-bent on dating outside your type, you’re not alone — but you’re also not in luck, according to social psychologists at the University of Toronto (U of T). They report that people tend to pick the same type of person over and over again as romantic partners, no matter what our experience with former partners was.
“It’s common that when a relationship ends, people attribute the breakup to their ex-partner’s personality and decide they need to date a different type of person,” says lead author Yoobin Park, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T.
“Our research suggests there’s a strong tendency to nevertheless continue to date a similar personality.”
The team used data from the German Family Panel (GFP) study launched in 2008, a multi-year study that looked at couples and families across several age intervals. The GFP is an ongoing longitudinal study on couple and family dynamics with a nationally representative sample of adolescents, young adults, and midlife individuals in Germany.
Using this data, Park and his co-author Geoff MacDonald, a professor in the Department of Psychology at U of T, compared the personalities of current and former partners of 332 participants, to see if they could spot a pattern. They could; the team reports finding a ‘significant consistency’ in the personalities of each participant’s romantic partners.
“The effect is more than just a tendency to date someone similar to yourself,” says Park.
Participants in the study, along with a number of their current and past partners, were asked to assess their own personality in regards to the ‘big 5′ personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. This process involved them rating how much they identified with statements such as “I am usually modest and reserved,” “I am interested in many different kinds of things” and “I make plans and carry them out” on a five-point scale.
Overall, the authors say, the current partners of those involved in the study described themselves in ways that were similar to how those participants’ past partners described themselves. The team worked with first-person testimonials of each participant’s partners (current or former) rather than on the participant’s description of them in order to account for various biases that other studies found.
“The degree of consistency from one relationship to the next suggests that people may indeed have a ‘type’,” says MacDonald. “And though our data do not make clear why people’s partners exhibit similar personalities, it is noteworthy that we found partner similarity above and beyond similarity to oneself.”
“Our study was particularly rigorous because we didn’t just rely on one person recalling their various partners’ personalities,” said Park. “We had reports from the partners themselves in real time.”
The authors say that the findings should help couples out there be happy and keep their relationships healthy. People learn strategies to accommodate their partners’ personalities during each relationship, they explain, and engaging with similar partners may let us carry over some of those skills to a new relationship. Park notes that this “might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing.” On the other hand, some of these strategies we develop can also be negative. All in all, we need more research to determine exactly where the benefits of dating someone who’s like your ex-partner end and where the disadvantages begin.
“So, if you find you’re having the same issues in relationship after relationship,” says Park, “you may want to think about how gravitating toward the same personality traits in a partner is contributing to the consistency in your problems.”
The paper ” Consistency between individuals’ past and current romantic partners’ own reports of their personalities” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.