You’ve no doubt had an experience where a friend introduces you to a new love interest and you're faced with a doppelgänger of their not-so-pleasant ex: they have the same presence, the same interests, the same sense of humor. You’re pretty sure they even have the same shoes on. Rest assured, your gut feeling might not be too far from wrong.
A new study has found that most people appear to have a “type” when it comes to dating, as reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Plenty of previous studies have looked at this phenomenon in terms of physical appearance and social background, but this research took a deep look at core personality traits across partners.
Using data from an ongoing multi-year study on relationships and families in Germany, social psychologists at the University of Toronto (U of T) in Canada gathered 332 human guinea pigs and compared their current and past partners. As a framework to make the comparisons, the team used the tried-and-tested model of the Big Five personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.
Crucially, this was based on first-person testimonials, not the partner’s interpretation of their personality, in the hopes of removing bias. After all, it’s perhaps easy for people to view past partners in a negative light compared to current ones.
The findings showed a remarkable level of consistency between the participants’ present and former romantic partners. This seems to be the case despite people’s apparent efforts to avoid making the same old mistakes with the same old type of people.
“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," lead author Yoobin Park, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at U of T, said in a statement. "Our research suggests there's a strong tendency to nevertheless continue to date a similar personality."
Not only may you fall for similar partners, but you are also likely to partner up with somebody who has a similar personality to yourself.
On the other hand, extroverts did appear to buck this trend, at least compared to their more introverted counterparts. People that scored highly in the “openness to experience” and “extroversion” traits were much less likely to choose partners with similar personalities than ex-partners and even themselves.
All of this doesn't necessarily have to be perceived as a negative thing, as if we're doomed to fall for the same type of person despite things not working out in the past. The researchers argue that this knowledge could help people build up their relationship skills and perhaps improve on past mistakes.
"In every relationship, people learn strategies for working with their partner's personality," says Park. "If your new partner's personality resembles your ex-partner's personality, transferring the skills you learned might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing."