Interpersonal Chemistry

Having 'chemistry' with someone is a magical experience. It's a connection that's orchestrated by a whole cocktail of emotions and neurotransmitters capable of building lasting relationships. Have you ever experienced it?
Interpersonal Chemistry

Last update: 10 May, 2022

Interpersonal chemistry refers to a perceived instant connection that exists when meeting a person for the first time. Carl Jung explained it extremely well when he said that the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there’s any reaction, both are transformed.

We all know what this type of experience feels like. The beginning of a friendship or flirting with someone you like also has this kind of alchemy that science has been studying for a long time. In an almost magical exchange, everything from positively valenced emotions to a whole cocktail of neurochemicals that change your brain intervenes.

You feel curiosity, harmony, pleasure, motivation, hope, and fascination. In fact, your interpersonal relationships allow you to transcend beyond your own skin to reach others and create something new. They’re luminous links that erect social and affective bonds loaded with meaning, forming the most basic units of civilization, such as friendship, love, and companionship.

Just as we experience ‘chemistry’ with certain people, we can also feel an almost instinctive rejection of certain personalities.

scene to symbolize interpersonal chemistry
Interpersonal chemistry is the social ‘molecule’ that orchestrates the foundation of all friendships, coworkers, and, of course, relationships.

Interpersonal chemistry

No doubt, at certain times in your life, you’ve experienced an interpersonal ‘spark’ with specific people. This exceptional type of harmony doesn’t only appear between partners, it also arises in friendships and work relationships. After all, who hasn’t ever felt a kind of chemistry between themselves and certain colleagues, resulting in the successful achievement of objectives and goals.

An investigation conducted by Reis, Regan, and Lyubomirsky, from the University of California (USA) claimed that interpersonal chemistry is defined as the feeling we experience when relating to someone and noticing that something greater emerges from that interaction. In effect, together, we’re more than the sum of its parts. Everything seems to fit and our reality makes more sense in the company of certain people.

After all, there are few situations that generate as much harmony as having friends who understand you and work colleagues with whom it’s easy and motivating to work. Finally, what would love be without that chemical spark that starts everything off?

The novel, Elective Affinities (1809), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the first scientific treatise in which the chemical origin of love was discussed.

The components of interpersonal chemistry

Feelings of interpersonal chemistry don’t always happen immediately. However, often, a deep conversation and a few hours together are enough. It’s also common, in some cases, for it to develop over time. In fact, its mysteries are complex and we all experience them in our own individual way.

Nevertheless, there are usually a certain set of components present. They’re the kinds that orchestrate and confer strength, oxygen, and magnetism to this type of alchemy:

  • The affective connection. When you meet or are with a certain person, the same sensations always appear. Those of complicity, affection, respect, laughter, well-being, motivation, optimism… It’s a veil of positivity that leaves an imprint on your brain.
  • Cognitive connection. Interpersonal chemistry doesn’t work through cognitive valence emotions alone. You also need to have similar perceptions and ideas and the same values. Indeed, coinciding in opinions, beliefs, and philosophies of life lights that important spark.
  • The behavioral connection. Enjoying spending time together, working for the same goals, reacting in a similar way to the same challenges… It all helps to build this type of socio-affective bond.

Connecting, the most fascinating mystery of human relationships

In Hollywood, casting directors know that they don’t only need to consider actors on an individual basis, but they also have to take personal chemistry into account. The viewing public also perceives and seeks this kind of connection on the screen. In other words, the relational harmony and magnetism between the protagonists. When this is present, it makes the script and the story being told far more credible.

In your daily life, you also long to find that connection with someone, because connecting, and achieving that relational spark allows you to rediscover yourself. For example, think of a friend you really appreciate. When you’re with them, you project yourself onto them. You see yourself more clearly.

It’s a type of joining that’s so intimate that everything flows. It’s like creating an emotional refuge in which you’re the same entity but with two hearts. While it’s true that you’ll never fit with each other 100 percent and that there’ll always be small differences between you, a 95 percent fit will certainly give you plenty of happiness.

In the last fifty years, advances in neurochemistry and immunology have allowed us to show that interpersonal chemistry really exists. Elements such as serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin build this type of attraction or affinity.

Woman with closed eyes and hand on heart
Our brains are designed to experience that interpersonal chemistry that comes with love and friendship.

The chemistry of human life

In 1919, physician George W. Carey wrote The Chemistry of Human Life. In this curious work, he conceptualized that the human body was like a kind of battery. He claimed that only when we receive the appropriate stimulation do our bodies vibrate and start working. From that moment, movement, energy, and life appear, in capital letters.

By energy or stimulation, he was undoubtedly referring to dimensions such as friendship or love. They’re those entities that inject us with adequate doses of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. These are the chemicals of happiness and connection. Relationships are what put us on our feet and give everything meaning and significance.

Therefore, when you find, in your daily life, figures with whom you react chemically and who transform you, as Jung suggested, it gives real meaning to who you are. As a matter of fact, the whole world is a laboratory, one in which you can experience the most incredible sparks, connections, and reactions.

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  • Campbell, K., Nelson, J., Parker, M. L., & Johnston, S. (2018). Interpersonal chemistry in friendships and romantic relationships. Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships, 12(1), 34–50. https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.v12i1.289
  • Reis HT, Regan A, Lyubomirsky S. Interpersonal Chemistry: What Is It, How Does It Emerge, and How Does It Operate? Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2022;17(2):530-558. doi:10.1177/1745691621994241