Women act like men during speed dating

by Gary W Lewandowski Jr, The Conversation
Role reversal: evolution is not the only way to explain gender differences. Credit: Linh Do

On a TV show or in a movie, if a guy and a girl are at a party and one approaches the other to strike up a conversation, chances are that it was the guy who approached the girl.

That is because we have what psychologists call "behavioural scripts", or a sequence of events that we typically expect to occur in . In most cultures, expectations about male and female dating behaviour (such as "guys approach girls") are so entrenched that there are special days or dances where the script is flipped. On Sadie Hawkins Day (traditionally observed in early November) or at a Sadie Hawkins Dance, women have the opportunity to invert social convention by asking out on a date or to a dance.

To study such scripts that underpin dating behaviour, researchers have used .

Speed dating is a structured way for daters to meet a lot of people quickly. The typical speed-dating event features women sitting at various locations around a room, often a coffee shop or bar, while men circulate and chat with each female for a few minutes. A signal will then indicate that time is up and the men should move along to the next woman. The process repeats until everyone at the event has "dated" each other. Later, the male and female participants let the event organiser know which partners they would like to see again. If the male and female indicate mutual interest, the organiser gives them each other's contact information. If done efficiently, a speed dater could meet over a dozen potential dating partners in less than an hour.

The typical speed-dating event relies heavily on the "male approaches female" norm. Consistent with the norm, speed-dating research reveals that women are pickier than men when indicating interest in potential partners, with men indicating interest in roughly half the potential partners and women indicating interest in roughly a third.

However, other researchers wondered if this apparent gender difference was actually a gender difference, or if instead it was the result of the social situation. Specifically, these researchers investigated whether the results were a result of women sitting in one place, while men circulated around the room. To test this, they had more than 300 undergraduates participate in speed-dating events. In half of those events, participants engaged in the standard speed-dating procedure of men circulating while women stayed in one place. For the other events, men and women performed a Sadie Hawkins-like role reversal: men stayed in one place while women circulated around the room.

In the standard "men rotating" events, the researchers replicated previous findings (and the prevailing stereotypes) that women were pickier about who they liked relative to men. But in the non-standard "women rotating" events where reversed roles, the researcher found the exact opposite pattern: men were picky, whereas women were less selective. Put another way, there was a "Sadie Hawkins Effect". When women were forced to go from man to man during the speed-dating event, they debunked the gender stereotype by showing an interest in more of the .

These findings show how a widely assumed gender difference – women are picky about who they date, men aren't – could largely be an artifact of social situations. Men may be less picky not because they are men, but because societal norms require them to do the majority of the approaching in dating scenarios. Women's selectivity, meanwhile, might arise from their essentially arbitrary role as "selectors". In other words, when lots of potential suitors are approaching you, it makes sense to be picky.

This brings up a much broader point: it is all too easy to assume that men and behave very differently because of evolved, inborn differences. Research like this shows how careful we must be to avoid assumptions about gender difference, and how we may not need to look far for other potential explanations.

Related Stories

Study examines beliefs about who should pay for dates

Aug 11, 2013

Chapman University's David Frederick will present new research at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association that examines men's and women's beliefs about who should pay for dates during courtship, ...

Hooking up or dating: Who benefits?

Apr 07, 2010

As hooking up takes over from dating as a means of heterosexual interaction on university campuses, more women than men continue to prefer dating whereas more men than women rate hooking up above dating. Both genders however ...

Recommended for you

Intervention program helps prevent high-school dropouts

2 hours ago

New research findings from a team of prevention scientists at Arizona State University demonstrates that a family-focused intervention program for middle-school Mexican American children leads to fewer drop-out rates and ...

Bilingualism over the lifespan

3 hours ago

It's a scene that plays out every day in Montreal. On the bus, in schools, in the office and at home, conversations weave seamlessly back and forth between French and English, or one of the many other languages represented ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

megmaltese
5 / 5 (1) Nov 26, 2013
You wanted parity? There you have it.
Mauricio
not rated yet Nov 26, 2013
"women are picky about who they date, men aren't – could largely be an artifact of social situations" No, sorry with the post modernist. But the reason for that is that the transmission of STDs is not symmetrical between sexes, like most things. The female receive biological fluid.

If a man has a STD, and he has sex with a woman who does not have it, she very likely will get the infection.

But if she has a STD and he (not having a STD) has sex with her, the probability of he getting the infection that she has, is way lower than the other way around.

So it is more adaptive for females to be more selective. Besides she can get pregnant.

But of course, western women love to hear that they are like men. And please, do not mention Sigmund Freud...