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Speed Dating put to the test

A guest post by Wray Herbert

Psychologists are very interested in first impressions, and in the nature of romantic attraction. What makes a date attractive, very quickly and in a romantic way? And what turns people off? Is falling in love just a subset of liking? It’s well known that we tend to like people who like us, and people who are generally friendly tend to be well liked. Does this hold for romantic attraction as well? Do amorous people attract the most attention? Or is it more appealing, as the old saw has it, to play “hard to get”?

A team of psychologists decided to explore some of these questions experimentally, and the tool they used for their research was—that’s right—speed dating. Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel of Northwestern and Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely of MIT had about 150 eligible men and women, about 20 years old, go on four-minute “dates” with about a dozen people of the opposite sex. For each of their dates, these men and women said thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But they also completed a set of questions, meant to take measure of both their romantic attraction and how much “chemistry" they experienced in each encounter. Finally, they asked everyone to answer this question about their dates: To what percentage of the other people here today will this person say “yes”? They wanted to see who was perceived as picky and who was, well, easy.

The scientists did allow those who were mutually attracted to one another to hook up again if they wanted to. That was not part of the experiment. It was just a nice thing to do. Then they crunched the data, and as they report in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science, the results were intriguing: If someone found just one of his or her dates especially attractive, but was not particularly interested in the others, the partner tended to reciprocate—with both desire and feelings of shared chemistry.

But if someone was indiscriminate, falling for everyone in the room, that was a big turnoff: Their dates felt neither sexual desire nor chemistry. These were also the people who were perceived as not at all picky—or, to put it another way, as desperate. And they were somehow broadcasting this attitude in these briefest of encounters.

The technical word for this is “loser.” But why, really, are these people sitting home alone on Saturday night? Why are amorous men and women unattractive? The scientists believe it goes beyond dating, and even beyond romantic attraction. People have a fundamental need to feel special and unique, they say, and this basic motivation may cut across all of our social interactions.

Other speed dating studies, by the way, have shown that people make up their minds about potential partners not in minutes but in seconds.
This means that Miranda (from Sex and the City) was probably wasting her time reinventing her resume. At that speed, that’s almost certainly not what Harris was sizing up.

For more insights into the quirks of human nature, visit We’re Only Human


  1. I've always found this fascinating. It's something we all seem to 'know' when our friend is desperately wanting a girlfriend and despite him being realy nice and really cute he just can't quite find one. We know it but can't explain it. I still think there is something more there though.

    Maybe something in the overacting in it all, being too willing, too affectionate, too nice. Even if we didn't know that this person was falling for everyone, if they were seriously overboard with all these feelings it would be creepy and I suspect we'd all run.

  2. Interesting study.

    Needy types tend to turn everyone off and now we've got the science to back that up.

  3. It's sort of scary how quickly we make these evaluations. And yet - there is an element of security in that too. It seems to hardly matter what you do or say because the other person has already made up their mind.

  4. I do a lot of job interviews and I can usually size someone up in a matter of seconds. It's probably not much different than speed dating. Except that I don't have sex with my truck drivers.

  5. Yeah, when you're looking you seem to push people away. Amongst my group of pub crawlers, this comes through in some quite sexist ways of 'picking up women.'

    It's when you're not looking and just interacting with people with the joy of interacting that you meet people on a genuine level.

  6. I do think, though, that in trying to avoiding "needy" types, some folks sabotage their chances of finding a mate by constantly looking for those who are emotionally distant.

    There's a sort of conquest mentality some people have. Anyone who actually seems interested in them becomes a "loser," even if it's genuine warmth. And the remote self-satisfied types seem more attractive, because they're so obviously not needy. So they spend their lives trying to seduce uncaring jerks, and overlook the sweet underdog types who might make great spouses.

  7. I'm so totally trying not to look. I'm a flirt which probably hurts my chances.

    I am interested in someone and I'm fairly sure he knows but we are friends and that is how I treat him cause I don't want to ruin what we currently have.

    You have an interesting blog. Glad I'm reading it.


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