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Interpersonal compatibility is a concept that describes the long-term interaction between two or more individuals in terms of the ease and comfort of communication.

Existing concepts[edit | edit source]

Although various concepts of interpersonal compatibility have existed from ancient times (see e.g. Plato's Lysis), no general theory of interpersonal compatibility has been proposed in psychology. Existing concepts are contradictory in many details, beginning with the central point -- whether compatibility is caused by matching psychological parameters or by their complementarity. At the same time, the idea of interpersonal compatibility is extremely popular in non-scientific and anti-scientific circles e.g. Astrological compatibility).

Among existing psychological tools for studying and/or measuring interpersonal compatibility, the following are noteworthy:


Socionics has proposed a theory of intertype relationships between psychological types based on a modified version of C.G. Jung's theory of psychological types. Communication between types is described using the concept of information metabolism proposed by Antoni Kępiński. However, socionic theory is somewhat controversial because of a lack of experimental data (although socionic data are much more representative than e.g. those of Ackoff and Emery).

Alternative hypotheses of intertype relationships were later proposed by adherents of MBTI (D. Keirsey's hypothesis of compatibility between Keirsey temperaments[2], an intertype relationships chart by Joe Butt and Marina Margaret Heiss[3], LoveTypes by Alexander Avila[4] and some other theories[5][6][7]) Neither of these hypotheses is commonly accepted in the Myers-Briggs type theory. MBTI in Russia is often confused with socionics, although the 16 types in these theories are described differently and do not correlate exactly.

Controversy[edit | edit source]

The following problems may be reasons for the absence of a theory of psychological compatibility:

  • lack of generally accepted criteria for measuring compatibility ('degrees of compatibility')
  • the terms compatibility and matching, although not identical, are often confused in common speech
  • the field's unclear status in social science (the problem may belong to social psychology, sociology, personality psychology etc.)
  • different psychological theories propose different parameters of personality, but only few of them are generally accepted among psychologists (e.g. cognitive styles); still, even generally accepted criteria may be irrelevant to interpersonal compatibility
  • some, if not all personality parameters (even genetically determined ones), may change over time and/or due to interpersonal interaction
  • the non-traditional view of psychological dependency, which is not considered drug dependency, but rather a need (unilateral or mutual) for somebody else's psychological support that one cannot or can hardly provide by him/herself.

MHC and sexual mating[edit | edit source]

Main article: Major Histocompatibility Complex and Sexual Selection

It has been suggested that MHC plays a role in the selection of potential mates, via olfaction. MHC genes make molecules that enable the immune system to recognize invaders; generally, the more diverse the MHC genes of the parents, the stronger the immune system of the offspring. It would therefore be beneficial to have evolved systems of recognizing individuals with different MHC genes and preferentially selecting them to breed with.

Yamazaki et al. (1976) showed this to be the case for male mice, who show a preference for females of different MHC. Similar results have been obtained with fish.[8]

In 1995, Swiss biologist Claus Wedekind determined MHC-dissimilar mate-selection tendencies in humans. In the experiment, a group of female college students smelled T-shirts that had been worn by male students for two nights, without deodorant, cologne or scented soaps. Overwhelmingly, the women preferred the odors of men with dissimilar MHCs to their own. However, their preference was reversed if they were taking oral contraceptives.[9] The hypothesis is that MHCs affect mate choice and that oral contraceptives can interfere with this. A study in 2005 on 58 test subjects confirmed the second part—taking oral contraceptives made women prefer men with MHCs similar to their own.[10] However, without oral contraceptives, women had no particular preference, contradicting the earlier finding.[11] However, another study in 2002 showed results consistent with Wedekind's—paternally inherited HLA-associated odors influence odor preference and may serve as social cues.[12]

In 2008, Peter Donnelly and colleagues proposed that MHC is related to mating choice in some human populations.


Complementarity[edit | edit source]

Complementarity in social psychology is defined on the basis of the interpersonal circle (Carson, 1969), according to which interpersonal behaviors fall on a circle with two dimensions, namely dominance (i.e. dominant–submissive) and warmth (i.e. hostile–friendly). It states that each interpersonal behavior invites certain responses of another interactant. The behavior and the response it invites are said to be complementary (Horowitz, Dryer, & Krasnoperova, 1997) when friendly behavior begets friendly behavior, and dominant behavior begets submissive behavior. When people fail to give the invited response, it is said to be a non-complementary interaction. If the first person's behavior invites a reaction from the second person that matches the second person's goals, then the second person is satisfied; otherwise, the second person is frustrated (Dryer & Horowitz, 1997).

Factors affecting complementarity[edit | edit source]

  • Setting i.e. in work, at home, in recreation and others

High complementarity in agentic behaviors is found in office settings whereas high complementarity in communal behaviors is found in non-office settings (Moskowitz et al. 2007). In an office setting, dominant agentic behaviors such as setting goals and making suggestions may be complemented with submissive agentic behaviors like avoiding taking the lead and not expressing their own views. At home, recreation and others, on the one hand, friendly communal behaviors such as smiling may invite similar behaviors like compromising about a decision. On the other hand, hostile communal behaviors like showing impatience may beget similar behaviors like showing no response to partners (Moskowitz et al. 2007).

  • Social Role Status e.g. supervisors, coworker and supervisee

High complementarity is found in supervisors (high-status, high-powered), they can act freely in their own way. Less complementarity is found in supervisees (low-status, low-powered), as they are normally guided by social norms which mold their behaviors. (Moskowitz, 2007; Locke, 2007).

  • Time e.g. strangers, old friends

High levels of complementarity are presumed to be more stable over time than those low levels of complementarity (Tracey, 2004). Greater levels of complementarity are developed when people have known each other for a long time than when they are newly acquainted (Tracey, 2004; Markey, Kurtz, 2006 stated in Moskowitz, 2007). However, contradictory result is also found in a study conducted by Ansell (2008).

Moderating effect of gender difference in complementarity

Complementary can be influenced by different relationship styles on male and female. Girls in general love communal behaviors such as social conversation and self-disclosure whereas boys love dominance behaviors such as competitive, organized or rough-and-tumble play. These developmentally differences can result in different peer relationships. A study by Ansell (2008) among 120 college students found that women reported significantly more complementarity than men among roommate dyads. The higher level of complementarity on dominance behaviors such as setting goals and making suggestions as found in both men and women dyads, the more cohesive the relationship was reported (Ansell, 2008).

See also[edit | edit source]

Note[edit | edit source]

  1. 1972, On Purposeful Systems: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Individual and Social Behavior as a System of Purposeful Events, By Russell Ackoff and Frederick Edmund Emery, Aldine-Atherton: Chicago.
  2. Keirsey, David [1978] (May 1, 1998). Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, 1st Ed., Prometheus Nemesis Book Co. ISBN 1885705026.
  8. Boehm, T., Zufall, F. (2006). MHC peptides and the sensory evaluation of genotype. Trends Neurosci 29 (2): 100–107.
  9. Wedekind, C., Seebeck, T.; Bettens, F.; Paepke, A.J. (June 1995). MHC-dependent mate preferences in humans. Proc Biol Sci 1359 (260): 245–249.
  10. Santos, P.S., Schinemann, J.A.; Gabardo, J.; Bicalho, Mda G. (April 2005). New evidence that the MHC influences odor perception in humans: a study with 58 Southern Brazilian students. Horm Behav. 47 (4): 384–388.
  11. The pill makes women pick bad mates
  12. Jacob S., McClintock M.K., Zelano B., Ober C. (February 2002). Paternally inherited HLA alleles are associated with women's choice of male odor. Nat. Genet. 30 (2): 175–9.

References[edit | edit source]

  • J Soc Psychol. 1974 Dec;94(2nd half):243-52. Husband-wife compatibility and the management of stress.Burke RJ, Firth J, McGrattan C. PMID: 4444276 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

External Links[edit | edit source]

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