People often try to get others to like them when initiating and intensifying romances, friendships, and even brief encounters. When they do this they are engaging in affinity seeking.
For decades, scholars interested in relationships focused primarily on static variables associated with liking. For instance, research has long demonstrated that people who share similar attitudes and values like each other more than those who do not. Studies also demonstrate that people are attracted to better-looking individuals. (Of course, there are exceptions to this focus on static variables – ingratiation comes to mind immediately.)
The affinity-seeking construct (Bell & Daly 1984) highlighted a more dynamic and strategic notion suggesting that people intentionally engage in certain behaviors in hopes of engendering liking. For instance, people might systematically highlight their similarity on some attitudes with someone to make the other person see them positively. Or, they might dress up, fix their hair, and even exercise hoping to get another person’s attention (Daly et al. 1983). The key move made in the affinity-seeking construct was emphasizing the strategic intentionality of behaviors that people use to ingratiate themselves to others.
Conceptualizing Affinity Seeking
Affinity seeking falls under the broader rubric of impression management. In Bell and Daly’s (1984) framework, affinity seeking has four major components: (1) antecedent factors such as people’s goals (e.g., to persuade, to generate liking) and the degree to which people are aware they are ingratiating themelves to others; (2) constraints that affect affinity seeking such as personality characteristics, social skills, and various contextual characteristics; (3) specific affinity-seeking strategies; and (4) the responses of others that are the outcomes of individuals’ attempts to generate affinity.
In early research on affinity seeking, Bell and Daly (1984) found 25 major strategies people typically use when they engage in ingratiation. These strategies fall into seven more general clusters: (1) control and visibility (e.g., presenting an interesting self, being dynamic), (2) mutual trust (e.g., being open, appearing trustworthy), (3) politeness (e.g., following conversational rules, conceding control), (4) concern and caring (e.g., listening, confirming the other’s sense of self ), (5) other involvement (e.g., including the other, engaging in nonverbal immediacy), (6) self-involvement (e.g., including oneself, influencing perceptions of closeness), and (7) commonalities (e.g., highlighting similarities, assuming equality).
These seven clusters fall along three dimensions: (1) activity: active/passive (e.g., being dynamic is active, listening is passive); (2) aggressiveness: aggressive/nonaggressive (e.g., physical attractiveness is aggressive, being supportive is nonaggressive); and (3) orientation: self-oriented/other-oriented (e.g., assuming control is self-oriented, including others is other-oriented).
Assessing Affinity-Seeking Skills
Affinity-seeking skills and competency are assessed via observation, peer ratings, and self-ratings. The majority of research on the construct has used a single composite measure of affinity seeking – either self-report (Bell et al. 1987b) or other-perceived. Studies conducted using the composite measure have demonstrated, for example, that people who report using more ingratiation strategies are better liked by others, seen as better conversationalists, and have greater potential as friends.
Rather than employ the composite measure, some research has examined individual affinity-seeking moves. These studies have found, for instance, that people who engage in active trust-building behaviors are more successful in developing relationships than those who do not. Yet another strand of research has looked at the variety of ingratiation strategies people use. This work has indicated that people who employ a wider assortment of strategies are better liked than individuals who latch onto only one or two strategies and use those in every exchange.
Correlates Of Affinity Seeking
Using a number of different measures and methods, researchers have found that successful affinity seeking typically has positive consequences in relationships (e.g., affinity seeking is correlated with greater relationship quality) and interactions (e.g., affinity seeking is correlated with how satisfied people are in conversations). Affinity seeking, done well, works – people like you more. Scholars have also found that ingratiation takes place in a variety of contexts.
For example, in the workplace, the affinity-seeking skills of supervisors are positively and significantly correlated with subordinates’ satisfaction with both supervisors and work. In classrooms, students’ abilities to engage in ingratiation are positively and significantly related to teachers’ judgments of their academic and social performance. Similarly, teachers who are better at affinity seeking receive higher evaluations from students, are seen as more credible and competent, have better classroom climates, and have students who voluntarily attend their classes more often and do better academically in their classes.
Affinity seeking is also correlated with many personality traits. It is positively and significantly associated with variables such as extroversion, assertiveness, and interaction involvement, and inversely and significantly related to constructs such as communication apprehension, loneliness, and neuroticism. When individual ingratiation strategies are correlated with various personality characteristics the picture is quite interesting. For instance, assertiveness is positively associated with more active affinity-seeking strategies (e.g., assuming control, dynamism) and inversely correlated with more passive moves (e.g., supportiveness, conceding control). People who are more cognitively flexible have a greater repertoire of ingratiation strategies, and people who manifest secure and clingy love styles demonstrate more affinity-seeking behaviors than do those with casual, uninterested, and skittish love styles.
Other research has found that, as Bell and Daly (1984) suggested, there are constraints that affect ingratiation. For instance, Flint (1992) found that teenagers varied their use of different affinity-seeking strategies as a function of their age as well as the person with whom they were interacting (mother vs father). Some research has revealed gender differences in the use of specific strategies (e.g., females report using listening, physical attraction, sensitivity, and elicitation of other’s disclosure more than do males; males more often report using assuming control and presenting an interesting self ). Studies have also hinted that each gender may not be particularly good at judging what the other gender does to engage in ingratiation (Daly 1994). Tolhuizen (1989) found that people use different strategies at different stages of their romantic relationships.
Other related work has examined the affinity-testing function – what people do to determine if someone else is interested in them as a potential romantic partner. This research (Douglas 1987) identified eight moves people use to test others’ affinity: confronting, withdrawing, sustaining, hazing, diminishing self, approaching, offering, and networking. These strategies fall along two dimensions: social appropriateness and efficiency.
Some research has expanded upon the original 25 strategies specified by Bell and Daly (1984). For instance, Ganong et al. (1999) examined affinity seeking among stepparents and their stepchildren and found 31 strategies. They also raised the important issue of when and how people recognize ingratiation moves. Sometimes stepchildren failed to recognize stepparents’ attempts to build affinity. Later studies have continued to use the affinity-seeking construct in stepfamilies and have found evidence that when stepparents are perceived by their stepchildren to engage in active affinity seeking, their relationship and marital quality between parents, is better.
Soon after the affinity-seeking concept was introduced, Bell et al. (1987a) proffered the related concept of affinity maintenance. Affinity maintenance behaviors are strategies people actively use to maintain, as opposed to establish, positive relationships with others. Bell et al. asked married individuals to describe how they maintain positive feelings in their relationships. Twenty-eight strategies emerged and most were similar to those found in the affinity-seeking research. Four affinity-seeking strategies were not reported by married individuals – assuming control, personal autonomy, comfortable self, and nonverbal immediacy. In addition, the following strategies appeared in the affinity maintenance project that were not part of the affinity-seeking work: faithfulness, honesty, physical affection, self-improvement, and third-party relations. In contrast to the strategies that were not reported, this latter group of strategies are clearly more relevant in established relationships than in initial interactions. All 28 moves were individually, and as a whole, positively correlated with marital quality (the strongest correlations with relational quality were with openness, sensitivity, and verbal affection). Further, women in the study felt they engaged in significantly more affinity maintenance than did their spouses. A closely related construct – labeled relational maintenance – appeared almost simultaneously with Bell et al.’s work and scholars have focused most of their attention on that construct in work since 1990 (Weigel & Ballard-Roach 1999; Stafford et al. 2000).
- Bell, R. A., & Daly, J. A. (1984). The affinity-seeking function of communication. Communication Monographs, 51, 91–115.
- Bell, R. A., Daly, J. A., & Gonzalez, M. C. (1987a). Affinity maintenance and its relationship to women’s marital satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 445 – 454.
- Bell, R. A., Tremblay, S., & Buerkel-Rothfuss, N. (1987b). Interpersonal attraction as a communication accomplishment: Development of a measure of affinity-seeking competency. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 51, 1–18.
- Daly, J. A. (1994). Affinity-seeking. In J. A. Daly & J. M. Wiemann (eds.), Strategic interpersonal communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 109 –134.
- Daly, J. A., Hogg, E., Sacks, D., Smith, M., & Zimring, L. (1983). Sex and relationship affect social self-grooming. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 7, 183 –189.
- Douglas, W. (1987). Affinity-testing in initial interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 3 –16.
- Flint, L. (1992). Adolescent parental affinity-seeking: Age and gender-mediated strategy use. Adolescence, 27, 417– 428.
- Ganong, L., Coleman, M., Fine, M., & Martin, P. (1999). Stepparents’ affinity-seeking and affinitymaintaining strategies with stepchildren. Journal of Family Issues, 20(3), 299 –327.
- Stafford, L., Dainton, M., & Haas, S. (2000). Measuring routine and strategic relational maintenance: Scale revision, sex versus gender roles, and the prediction of relational characteristics. Communication Monographs, 67, 306 –323.
- Tolhuizen, J. H. (1989). Communication strategies for intensifying dating relationships: Identification, use and structure. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6(4), 413 – 434.
- Weigel, D. J., & Ballard-Roach, D. S. (1999). How couples maintain marriages: A closer look at self and spouse influences upon the use of maintenance behaviors in marriages. Family Relations, 48, 263 –269.