When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships?

Paul W. Eastwick*, Eli J. Finkel, Alice H. Eagly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Three studies explored how the traits that people ideally desire in a romantic partner, or ideal partner preferences, intersect with the process of romantic relationship initiation and maintenance. Two attraction experiments in the laboratory found that, when participants evaluated a potential romantic partner's written profile, they expressed more romantic interest in a partner whose traits were manipulated to match (vs. mismatch) their idiosyncratic ideals. However, after a live interaction with the partner, the match vs. mismatch manipulation was no longer associated with romantic interest. This pattern appeared to have emerged because participants reinterpreted the meaning of the traits as they applied to the partner, a context effect predicted by classic models of person perception (S. E. Asch, 1946). Finally, a longitudinal study of middle-aged adults demonstrated that participants evaluated a current romantic partner (but not a partner who was merely desired) more positively to the extent that the partner matched their overall pattern of ideals across several traits; the match in level of ideals (i.e., high vs. low ratings) was not relevant to participants' evaluations. In general, the match between ideals and a partner's traits may predict relational outcomes when participants are learning about a partner in the abstract and when they are actually in a relationship with the partner, but not when considering potential dating partners they have met in person.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1012-1032
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Attraction
  • Ideal partner preferences
  • Person perception
  • Relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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