Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can I get yer number?

I think we can agree: Sometimes this is a big ole confusing world. In this day and age there are just so many choices. While wandering the mall we use window dressings and sale signs to help us decide on stores and products. In the world of the internet we use customer rating systems to help us decide. But what about in other areas where we don't have big red signs and five star rating systems? Areas such as relationships - more specifically, picking a mate.

Social psychologist Alison Lenton and economist Marco Francesconi have conducted a study to try to figure out why and how we choose potential mates. Their experiment of choice -- speed dating. Think about it, it makes sense. A situation where you have to make decisions about whether or not you want to see someone again based only on a few minutes of conversation. The study consited of 84 different speed dating events in the U.K. that included a total of 1,868 women and 1,879 men. These men and women had between 3 and 5 minutes to talk to each other and decide whether or not they wanted to see someone again, a single individual talking to 15 to 35 people in a night.

You would think that people would pick out a date based on what they think they want, but the researchers found that the number of choices is what matters. They found that the more people an individual had to choose from the more likely it was that the men and women would make judgements about a person based on their appearance. So the environment itself is also a factor in decision making. At the larger events the pattern became more pronounced, as more potential matches were presented to a person, the more likely they were to decide based on appearance. The pattern was still there in the smaller events, but the participants were more likely to take the effort to get to know potential dates.

Of course, we are only talking about snap decisions --- the you're-hot-or-you're-not response. I can argue that that serves a purpose, after all you don't want to date someone you are not attracted to initially, but to make real connections people need to have real experiences with each other, become friends.

The take home message? Given a choice, people go for the hotties.

You're shocked, I can tell.

The NPR report including a link to the Morning Edition audio: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126050697&sc=fb&cc=fp

(image from despair.com)
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