3 Seconds To Choose A Mate

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studying dating data from more than 10,000 members of a speed dating agency have uncovered rare behavioral data on how people act in dating situations. “Some people say they’re looking for one kind of person, then choose another. Other people say they don’t even know what they’re looking for. But our data suggest that, however it happens, people know it quickly when they see it,” said researcher Robert Kurzban.

At each speed dating party, 25 men and 25 women interact with each other for three minutes at a time. At the end of the session, each participant indicates which of the people he or she met would be of interest for the future. “Although they had three minutes, most participants made their decision based on the information that they probably got in the first three seconds,” Kurzban said. “Somewhat surprisingly, factors that you might think would be really important to people, like religion, education and income, played very little role in their choices.”

Psychologists have often viewed relationships as transactions where people select mates based on the qualities a mate has to offer, such as power and money. According to Kurzban, the data show that, when people meet face-to-face, things like smoking preferences and bank accounts don’t seem to loom large in the intricate complexities of attraction. “The speed dating offered us, as psychologists, something that we rarely get in conducting research: a systematic look at the genuine behavior of people selecting mates,” Kurzban said. “The actual behavior of people is worth more to us than their stated beliefs. In this case, because participants might suffer the consequences of a bad date with someone who might look compatible on paper, they had more incentive to follow their hearts and desires. Behavior, more than self-reports, give us an important window into the underlying psychology of mating.”

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