Romantic attraction: Misattribution versus reinforcement explanations

Douglas T. Kenrick, Robert B. Cialdini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Reinforcement principles have been widely accepted as predictive of "liking" between individuals. The present paper takes the position that other diverse forms of attraction, including human "love" and infrahuman bonding, are likewise best explained in reinforcement terms. Although research that demonstrates increased romantic attraction under aversive circumstances has been interpreted as contradictory to reinforcement principles and, instead, consistent with a Schachterian misattribution view of romantic attraction, difficulties with the misattribution explanation are seen to exist. The studies reviewed did not attempt to disguise the actual sources of arousal and failed to take into account the possibility that the presence of the rated person may have reduced fear or anxiety. Several aspects of the data support a fear-reduction model over the misattribution model. An alternative formulation, consistent with reinforcement principles, is proposed as more parsimonious in explaining all available data. Literature on emotional bonding in subhumans is also reviewed to support the position taken in the present paper, and the potential adaptive significance of increased bonding under aversive circumstances is discussed. (48 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-391
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 1977
Externally publishedYes


  • infrahuman bonding, literature review
  • misattribution vs reinforcement explanations, interpersonal attraction &

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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