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Looking for Ideal Traits May Not Land the Right Mate

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on November 15, 2011

Looking for Ideal Traits May Not the Right MateMany dating websites incorporate sophisticated psychological profiling in an attempt to match an individual with a prospective soul mate. They often ask an individual to make a wish list of ideal traits that are desired in a mate.

Unfortunately, a new study finds that this approach is flawed: Once you actually meet a potential dating partner, the concept of finding the perfect match often falls by the wayside.

People liked potential partners that matched their ideals more than those that mismatched their ideals when they examined written descriptions of potential partners, but those same ideals didn’t matter once they actually met in person, said Texas A&M’s Dr. Paul W. Eastwick and Northwestern’s Eli J. Finkel and Alice H. Eagly.

“People have ideas about the abstract qualities they’re looking for in a romantic partner,” said Eastwick, lead author of the study.

“But once you actually meet somebody face to face, those ideal preferences for traits tend to be quite flexible.”

Researchers give the following example: Say you prefer a partner who, online or on paper, fits the bill of being persistent.

“After meeting in person, you might feel that, yeah, that person is persistent, but he can’t compromise on anything. It’s not the determined and diligent kind of persistent that you initially had in mind,” Eastwick said.

The idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, said Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University and co-author of the study.

“People are not simply the average of their traits,” he said. “Knowing that somebody is persistent, ambitious and sexy does not tell you what that person is actually like. It doesn’t make sense for us to search for partners that way.”

“Thinking about this or that feature of a person apart from taking the whole person into account doesn’t predict actual attraction,” Eagly said. “While some online dating sites have video features that provide some context, generally people are matched on their answers to specific questions that do not capture the whole person.”

Scores from answers to questions such as “How much money do you earn?” or “Are you extroverted?” provide two-dimensional facts rather than three-dimensional humanness, Finkel said.

Researcher say that in reality, many prospective partner seekers end up ignoring their preconceived notions about what would make an ideal mate.

“Based on those ideals, you might end up liking a person upon meeting face to face, or you might have the opposite reaction,” Finkel said.

As Eastwick notes, it is not uncommon for someone to say, ‘If you had tried to set me up with this guy, I would never have gone out with him, but I’m so glad I did!’”

Source: Northwestern University

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2011). Looking for Ideal Traits May Not Land the Right Mate. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/11/15/looking-for-ideal-traits-may-not-land-the-right-mate/31482.html