Do “birds of a feather flock together” or “opposites attract”? What do you think? I have been around these two notions all my life. If I recall correctly however, I was more familiar with the notion of “opposites attract” and did not learn about the other notion later in life. Perhaps that influences my preference of one over the other. Then, during the past years, I have learned about the two notions in at least two psychology courses. So, what is it then? What do I think and what do the studies say?

I was surprised to read that both notions cannot be true (PSU, 2017). I guess in general, there is one that shows more success in terms of relationships. The lesson commentary state that “birds of a feather flock together” is the true notion, in terms of long-lasting relationships and success (PSU, 2017). This relates to similarity. It makes sense if you think about it. Life is full of experiences, situations and changes. People and life change with time and it may be challenging for two persons to smoothly experience it all successfully. Perhaps it would be easier for two persons with similar perspectives, beliefs and maybe even backgrounds. The similar-to-me-effect explains that people get along better with others who are similar to them because they share values, personality traits, feelings and thoughts (PSU, 2017).

A study conducted by Capitanio, Blozis, Snarr, and McCowan investigated the famous question Do “birds of a feather flock together” or do “opposites attract”? The interesting thing is that they studied these notions on monkeys. Perhaps similarity effects go beyond humans. They assessed the monkeys during infancy to predict success pairing years later. For instance, in female monkeys, success pairing was higher when they had similar scores of emotionality and nervous temperament (2015). The researchers concluded that patterns of emotionality during infancy can be used for success pairing in the future (Capitanio et al., 2015).

Perhaps it is just part of my personality but I often find myself choosing the grey area between two concepts. Therefore, I have problems choosing just one notion over the other. I do understand why the notion of similarity correlates to successful long-term relationships. As a married woman, I know the challenges of marriage. In my case, “opposites attract” would probably be the most accurate notion to describe my relationship. When I say opposites, in so many ways that it is surprising. We have been together for nearly 8 years and faced many challenges. Still, our love and bond have grown stronger with the years. It has been interesting to experience all the changes of life together and still fit like a puzzle. However, we do have many similarities. I believe it is perhaps a balance. I truly think is possible to have a combination and not fit completely into one notion or the other.

In conclusion, similarity is definitely a positive predictor for successful long-term relationships. When it comes to “birds of a feather flock together” or “opposites attract”, psychology and studies points to the notion that “birds of a feather flock together”. People get along with others who are similar to them. I personally like to think it is possible to fit in the middle of these two notions. For me, not everything is not white or black. Relationships are complex and high similarity would definitely make the experience easier, but I think success is possible with some differences.


Lesson 12: Relationships/Everyday Life. Penn State University. Retrieved

Capitanio, J. P., Blozis, S. A., Snarr, J., Steward, A., & Mccowan, B. J. (2015). Do “birds of a feather flock together” or do “opposites attract”? Behavioral responses and temperament predict success in pairings of rhesus monkeys in a laboratory setting. American Journal of Primatology, 79(1). doi:10.1002/ajp.22464

1 comment

  1. Caroline Purrington

    I remember “Is it birds of a feather flock together or is it opposites attract?” being one of my early psychology papers — one of the first I ever wrote in the major — so this takes me back quite a bit. I came to the same conclusion as you, albeit with less nuance and depth (it was, after all, Psychology 101). With some years of perspective, I feel that one of the reasons “opposites attract” is such a popular notion is because we see it all the time in nature and out in the world and because there’s a poetic element to it that makes it popular for fiction, myths, and philosophy.

    Many animals look dramatically different depending on gender (for example, most bird species have flashy males and drab females), and in an era of scientific advancement, we’re of course all heard that magnets attract only by opposites and repel same charges. This kind of makes for a poetic story — that someone is looking for their “opposite,” the person that “completes” them. It certainly “feels” a lot more interesting than just acknowledging that we prefer people who are more similar to us than not. It also has a social element of encouraging people to get along with their seeming opposites or to branch out and try to get to know people who aren’t just like them. Even if “opposites attract” isn’t as true as we might think it is, I feel that it’s still a somewhat important sentiment to have in our social subconscious. If we only encouraged people to stay with their “flock,” the world gets just that much more closed off.

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