Looks Aren't Everything When It Comes to Speed Dating
First impressions are pivotal when deciding on a potential date, but first impressions aren't all about looks when couples are speed-dating, say researchers at the California Institute of Technology.
By Erin Hicks
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TUESDAY, Nov. 13, 2012 —Researchers think they may have found one secret to how people make decisions when choosing a romantic partner, backing up the adage that first impressions are everything — but they're not just about looks.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena found that people make speed-dating decisions based on two factors related to activity in two different parts of the brain.
The first factor in determining whether to request a date with someone is physical attractiveness. The second involves individual preferences, like how compatible a potential date seems to be.
This study is one of the first to look at what happens in the brain when people make quick decisions that carry social consequences, according to a press release about the speed-dating study.
Researchers recruited 39 heterosexual men and women, put them in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, and showed them pictures of potential dates of the opposite sex. The subjects were given four seconds to rate how much they would want to go on a date with that person, on a scale of 1 to 4.
After rating 90 faces, the participants were asked to rate the faces again on attractiveness and likeability, this time without the fMRI. Later, the volunteers went to a real speed-dating event, in which they spent five minutes talking to some of the potential dates they had previously rated. The participants then listed those they wanted to see again.
Your Brain on Romance
Researchers found that nearly everyone in the study considered physical attraction when judging a potential romantic partner, and that judgement correlated with activity in a part of the brain called the paracingulate cortex.
But that’s not the only thing that happened, said Jeff Cooper, PhD, lead author of the study. When participants saw a person they wanted to date — but who wasn’t rated as very desirable by everyone — they showed more activation in a different part of the brain, the rostromedial prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain has previously been associated with consideration of other people’s thoughts, comparisons of oneself to others, and perceptions of similarities with others.
Researchers said this suggests that, in addition to physical attractiveness, people consider individual compatibility with a prospective romantic partner.
"Psychologists have known for some time that people can often make very rapid judgments about others based on limited information, such as appearance," said John O'Doherty, professor of psychology and one of the paper's coauthors. "However, very little has been known about how this might work in real social interactions with real consequences — such as when making decisions about whether to date someone or not. And almost nothing is known about how this type of rapid judgment is made by the brain."
Researchers concluded that, at least in the speed-dating context, a person's judgement of another’s likeability can serve as a tiebreaker if two people are equally attractive.
The study is published in theJournal of Neuroscience.
How Everyday Health Readers Evaluate a First Date
Everyday Health asked readers how they tend to judge someone on a first date, and they responded on our Facebook page with everything from how the date treats waitstaff to how their teeth look.
- “By their smell! If you’re attracted to their natural scent you make good chemistry and will make healthy babies,” said Sarah E. Francis.
- “I judge their character on the way they act. I've been dating this man for almost two years now. Two things I enjoyed were that he listened/gave feedback and made me laugh, a lot,” said Heather Marie Larson.
- “I am interested in how healthy their lifestyle is, how often they work out, do they tend to eat healthy, do they look fit. It's important to me now since I live a very healthy lifestyle, after losing over 55 lbs. and almost at my goal. I can never go back to dating someone who doesn't live an active lifestyle and doesn't eat healthy because I know it will never work,” said Marla Green.
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