When Choosing How to Swipe, We All Have a Type

It's a cultural trope that everyone has a "type" when it comes to romantic relationships; now, there's some science to back it up.


What’s your type? It’s a common enough question on dating apps and in magazine quizzes, but according to a new study, there might be more science behind it than you’d think.

Although we might intuitively know that we tend to fall into the same patterns when it comes to dating, little research previously existed into whether or not this was the case. Now, thanks to a team of social psychologists from the University of Toronto, we know that our past partners likely have more in common than we may have expected.

The study was led by Yoobin Park, a PhD candidate in the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology, along with her advisor Geoff MacDonald, and published in PNAS.

The data for the study came from nine years worth of self-reported personality profiles from the German Family Panel study. A total of 332 participants, along with their past and current romantic partners, were included in the research.

Participants were asked to rate how strongly they identified with personality-related statements such as “I am usually modest and reserved”. The questionnaire results measure traits like agreeableness or extroversion, among others.

The results revealed significant similarities between participants’ different partners, suggesting that we do indeed gravitate to the same types of people in romantic relationships.

The authors also found that while participants’ past partners tended to have similar personalities, they didn’t necessarily share personality traits with the participants themselves. This suggests that our romantic “types” aren’t just reflections of our own personalities.

“The effect is more than just a tendency to date someone similar to yourself,” Park said. “The degree of consistency from one relationship to the next suggests that people may indeed have a ‘type’.”

The strength of their study was the fact that rather than relying on a participant’s biased recollections of a past relationship, the romantic partners themselves were also participants in the study.

“We had reports from the partners themselves in real time,” Park explained. “We didn’t just rely on one person recalling their various partners’ personalities.”

Interestingly, the authors also found that the consistency between partners’ personality types was weaker for extroverted participants. These participants were more likely to have a wider spread in their past partners’ personality characteristics, perhaps suggesting that extroverts are more open to new experiences.

Going forward, Park is interested in how these results might be able to help couples dealing with issues in their relationships.

“In every relationship, people learn strategies for working with their partner’s personality. 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.”

And although many people may believe their current partner to be a vast improvement over past relationships that didn’t work out, the authors’ results suggest that there may be more in common between them than we’d like to admit. Acknowledging these similarities could shed light on our dating patterns and preferences, and help strengthen current relationships going forward.

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Emily Deibert is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto with a passion for science outreach and communication. She earned her HBSc (Astronomy, English, and Mathematics) at the University of Toronto. She is excited about turning scientific research into stories and sharing these stories with the public.