Falling in love in three minutes or less
PHILADELPHIA – It seems that the heart wants what the heart wants – and it can figure it out fairly quickly, according to evolutionary psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers studied dating data from 10,526 anonymous participants of HurryDate, a company that organizes "speed dating" sessions, and found rare behavioral data on how people genuinely act in dating situations. "Some people say they're looking for one kind of person, then choose another. Other people say that 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 Robert Kurzban, an assistant professor in Penn's Department of Psychology. "People generally understand their own worth on the dating market, so they are able to judge each others' potential compatibility within moments of meeting."
At each HurryDate party, roughly 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. HurryDate also collects survey data from participants, including age, height, education, income, drinking behavior, smoking behavior, race and religion. For this study, HurryDate also collected answers to optional questions about such things as how participants rate their own attractiveness and sexuality.
"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."
Psychology has often viewed relationships as transactions where people select mates based on substantial 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 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."
Kurzban got the idea to study speed dating when he saw an ad for HurryDate and realized it represented a potential treasure trove of data. Kurzban teamed with Jason Weeden, who was working on his doctorate in psychology at the time, to study and interpret the data. The researchers caution that speed dating is not necessarily typical of how people usually interact. Their findings might or might not characterize long-term dating relationships.
Their findings will be presented in an upcoming issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
Hurry Brands LLC, the parent company of HurryDate, did not fund Kurzban and Weeden in their research, but they did absorb the costs of compiling and generating the anonymous data for use in the study.
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