Observers of first dates can predict outcome, study shows

January 30, 2009

When it comes to assessing the romantic playing field -- who might be interested in whom -- men and women were shown to be equally good at gauging men's interest during an Indiana University study involving speed dating -- and equally bad at judging women's interest.

Researchers expected women to have a leg up in judging romantic interest, because theoretically they have more to lose from a bad relationship, but no such edge was found.

"The hardest-to-read women were being misperceived at a much higher rate than the hardest-to-read men. Those women were being flirtatious, but it turned out they weren't interested at all," said lead author Skyler Place, a doctoral student in IU's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences working with cognitive science Professor Peter Todd. "Nobody could really read what these deceptive females were doing, including other women."

Place's study, published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, focused on the ability of observers to judge romantic interest between others because this ability has evolutionary benefits when it comes to finding a mate. Decisions that other people around us make, said Place, can influence or inform our own choices.

"So, if you walk into a room and there's 20 people you've never met before, being able to know which individuals might be available and which are clearly smitten by others can make you more efficient in finding your own romantic interest to pursue," he said.

For the study, 28 women and 26 men of college age watched video clips of couples interacting on speed dates. Speed dating is a popular commercial method for singles to meet a large number of individuals in one evening of successive brief one-on-one conversations. Each participant observed 24 videos, all with different men and women, and after each rated whether the man seemed interested in the woman and the woman in the man.

The speed dating sessions were all conducted in Germany while the observer ratings were all made by students in Indiana. Despite the language difference, observers were still able to judge men's romantic interest accurately using body language, tone of voice, eye contact, how often each dater spoke and other non-verbal cues.

"How people talk might convey more than what they say," Place said.

Observers did not have to see much of this non-verbal behavior. They were just as good at predicting the speed-dating couple's interest if they saw only 10 seconds of the date as they were if they saw 30 seconds. The researchers say this showed that observers, even with limited information, could make quick, accurate inferences using "thin slices" of behavior.

There was, however, great variability in how well observers could predict the interest of any particular speed-dater, ranging from 90 percent accuracy down to 10 percent. In five of the videos, 80 percent of the observers thought the women shown were interested when in fact they were not -- they were acting friendly even though they had no interest in the men.

Evolutionary theory, said Place, predicts a certain level of coyness or even deceptiveness in women because if a relationship is abandoned they may face greater costs, including pregnancy and child rearing. When choosing a mate, it is in a woman's best interest to get men to open up and talk honestly to give her a better idea of whether they would be good long-term partners.

"In a speed dating environment, you would expect to see these effects dramatically, with the women trying to get the men to be more straightforward, while they themselves remain more coy," Place said. "Though the pace is faster than a typical first date, the strategy remains the same."

Readers can see how successful they are at judging romantic interest by participating in a new online study that contains the same task as the one described here. To learn more or to participate in the 20-minute experiment being conducted by Place and his research colleagues, visit this site: www.indiana.edu/~abcwest/webexp/.

Reference: Place, S. S., Todd, P. M., Penke, L., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2009). "The ability to judge the romantic interest of others." Psychological Science, 20(1), 22-26.

Source: Indiana University

Explore further: A magic formula to predict attraction is more elusive than ever

Related Stories

A magic formula to predict attraction is more elusive than ever

August 30, 2017
Dating websites often claim attraction between two people can be predicted from the right combination of traits and preferences, but a new study casts doubt on that assertion.

Wider-faced dates more attractive as short-term mates

February 5, 2014
Women may perceive men with wider faces as more dominant and more attractive for short-term relationships, according to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

How men and women see each other when online dating

May 28, 2015
In the world of online dating, nothing is as it seems. But that doesn't stop many of us from leaping to the wrong conclusions about people. A recent paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication ...

Putting the data into dating

April 21, 2016
Heart rate, step counts and sleeping patterns may not be the most romantic of topics—but what would happen if you started talking about them on a date?

Study examines perceptions of status and attractiveness in photographs

January 11, 2016
As if it weren't hard enough. Being assessed and judged all the time, on our looks, our deeds, our works, the contents of our refrigerators. We are also judged by the company we keep, and in ways that leave me pessimistic ...

Recommended for you

Car, stroller, juice: Babies understand when words are related

November 20, 2017
The meaning behind infants' screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder

November 20, 2017
A groundbreaking Loyola Medicine study suggests that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.

Non-fearful social withdrawal linked positively to creativity

November 20, 2017
Everyone needs an occasional break from the social ramble, though spending too much time alone can be unhealthy and there is growing evidence that the psychosocial effects of too much solitude can last a lifetime.

Cultural values can be a strong predictor of alcohol consumption

November 20, 2017
Countries with populations that value autonomy and harmony tend to have higher average levels of alcohol consumption than countries with more traditional values, such as hierarchy and being part of a collective. This new ...

A walk at the mall or the park? New study shows, for moms and daughters, a walk in the park is best

November 17, 2017
Spending time together with family may help strengthen the family bond, but new research from the University of Illinois shows that specifically spending time outside in nature—even just a 20-minute walk—together can ...

Risk of distracted driving predicted by age, gender, personality and driving frequency

November 17, 2017
New research identifies age, gender, personality and how often people drive as potential risk factors for becoming distracted while driving. Young men, extroverted or neurotic people, and people who drive more often were ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.