Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Interpersonal attraction--Sex differences; Cognitive dissonance--Sex differences; College students--Attitudes;


Physical attractiveness is an important standard for mate selection for both men and women (Langlois et al., 2000). However, men may care more about their partners’ physical attractiveness than do women (Feingold, 1990). This study applied cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) to physical attractiveness in mate selection. Not everyone can find a partner who is as attractive as he or she would ideally like, so this may create cognitive dissonance between their attitudes and behavior. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that people try to reduce uncomfortable feelings caused by the differences between their attitudes and behaviors (Festinger, 1957). Because men care more about their partners’ physical attractiveness than do women, men and women may reduce cognitive dissonance caused by partner’s physical attractiveness differently.

282 college students who were in a heterosexual romantic relationship completed demographic questions and rated their partner’s physical attractiveness. Then they were randomly assigned to a physical attractiveness condition, a personality condition, or a pure control condition. Participants in the physical attractiveness condition were primed to think of physical attractiveness as important, but reminded of their partner’s lower attractiveness levels; participants in the personality condition were primed to think of kindness as important and not reminded about their partner’s attractiveness level; and participants in the pure control condition were primed to think about healthy foods. Then all participants rated their partner’s physical attractiveness again and the importance of physical attractiveness in relationships. They also completed the measures assessing the quality of alternatives and commitment level in their current relationships.

I hypothesized that men would be more likely to change attitudes toward finding a new partner or leaving their current partner if they believe their partners’ physical attractiveness is important but they are reminded that they are dating less attractive partners. Specifically, I predicted that men in the physical attractiveness condition would score higher on quality of alternatives and lower on level of commitment in relationships compared to women in physical attractiveness condition. In contrast, I expected that women would be more likely to change attitudes toward partners’ physical attractiveness in this situation. Specifically, I predicted that women in the physical attractiveness condition would score lower on importance of partner’s physical attractiveness and higher on ratings of partner’s attractiveness. I did not expect gender differences in the other two conditions. Contrary to predictions, men and women did not differ in ways of reducing dissonance. Men rated physical attractiveness as more important, reported more relationship alternatives, and were less committed to their current relationships than were women. Men also tended to rate their partner as more attractive than women did. There were no effects of condition. It may be that short-term interactions are not sufficient to induce dissonance about relationship issues with their partners.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Helen C. Harton, Chair, Thesis Committee

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (vii, 89 pages)



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