Have you ever found yourself walking in the same direction as a stranger (e.g., down the hall at work/school; through the shopping mall) and found yourself oddly attracted to that person? No? Yeah, me neither. But, and hear me out, even though we don’t consciously feel an immense desire for this person, we may be more attracted to the stranger than if her or she had been walking the other direction.
According to a recent study, individuals who travel in the same direction tend to be more attracted to one another than individuals who in travel opposite directions.1 In two studies (one conducted in the United States, the other in Hong Kong), married couples who travelled in similar directions to work (for example, both of them work east of where they live) tended to have higher marital satisfaction than couples who travelled in different directions (e.g., one person travelled north whereas the other travelled southwest). Also, when the couples’ routes to work were more similar, the couples were more satisfied in their marriages. Interestingly, this effect had nothing to do with the couples leaving home at the same time, carpooling, or having similar jobs. It also didn’t have anything to do with how long the couple had been married, how many kids they had, their income, their gender, or the distance to work. Simply speaking, it all had to do with moving in the same direction.
Being an intelligent consumer of research, you are probably shouting “correlation does not imply causation!” at your computer screen. If you are, please calm down – you’re acting like a lunatic. That being said, you are a correct lunatic. Correlation does not imply causation. That is, just because there is an association between similarity of travel direction and marital satisfaction, it does not necessarily mean that travelling in the same direction causes marital satisfaction. In fact, it could be that satisfied couples tend to seek out employment in the same general part of town, or that the couple met because they worked in similar parts of town.
But here is where I blow your mind. The researchers did a third study in which they had undergraduates work in pairs with a stranger of the opposite sex. The student pairs had to move dumbbells from one room to another. The researchers randomly decided whether the participants would travel in the same or opposite direction as their partners. For example, participants either moved toward the same end of the hallway as their partner or they moved in the complete opposite direction. After completing the task, participants indicated how much they liked the student with whom they worked and were asked to predict how much they would enjoy a future discussion with their partner. Participants who walked in the same direction as their partner (remember, the partner was a random stranger) liked their partner more and expected the upcoming discussion to be more enjoyable than if they travelled opposite directions.
We’ve written a lot about similarity, and this research shows that these similarities can be as simple as moving in the same physical direction as someone else!
1Huang, X., Dong, P., Dai, X., & Wyer, R. S., Jr. (2012). Going my way? The benefits of travelling in the same direction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.021
Dr. Brent Mattingly – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Mattingly’s research, broadly conceptualized, focuses on the intersection of romantic relationships and the self. His specific lines of research all examine how individual-level constructs (e.g., motivation, attachment, self-regulation) are associated with various relational processes.