You say you don't care about dating a hottie?

January 5, 2012

Stating that you don't care if you land a partner who is "hot" or "sexy" is relatively commonplace. But what people say they want and what they actually want are often two very different things when it comes to romantic attraction.

However, a new methodology that measures people's implicit, split-second responses gets around this problem. Research from Northwestern University and Texas A&M University measures whether people's implicit preferences actually predict how much you like the hotties.

"People will readily tell you what they value in a romantic partner," said Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and co-author of the study. "But study after study shows that those preferences don't predict whom daters are actually attracted to when they meet flesh-and-blood partners. Now we can get under the hood with this quirky to see what people actually prefer in live-interaction settings."

Paul W. Eastwick, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study, says that the findings raise questions about the way we determine what people want in a partner.

"If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn't care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn't worth all that much," Eastwick said. "Instead, it would actually be more useful to measure her reaction times on this new task."

Focused on , the implicit measure in this study was based on reaction times to various words flashed in the middle of a computer screen. Participants' task was to quickly sort synonyms of "physical attractiveness" with other words that they happen to like, such as tequila, or motorcycles, or romance novels. According to the researchers, the people who perform well on this task have a strong implicit preference for physical attractiveness.

Along with Eastwick and Finkel, other co-authors of the study include Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology and faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, and Sarah E. Johnson, a doctoral graduate of Northwestern.

"In many cases, people's consciously stated attitudes and preferences predict their behavior quite well," Eagly said. "But in the case of attraction, people's implicit, unconscious preferences seem to do a better job."

A number of psychology studies reveal a disconnect between stated preferences for partners and actual choices. Most of the studies use explicit measures in which people consciously report what appeals to them in a partner. In this new study, the implicit measure that the researchers developed predicted how much the participants liked physically attractive potential partners, both at a speed-dating event and in a face-to-face interaction in the laboratory.

"People's reports of why they like certain partners might not be especially accurate," Eastwick said. "But that doesn't mean that romantic desire is random. The reasons might still be there, hovering just outside of conscious awareness."

The study, "Implicit and Explicit Preferences for Physical Attractiveness in a Romantic Partner: A Double Dissociation in Predictive Validity," appeared in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Explore further: Do you really know what you want in a partner?

Related Stories

Do you really know what you want in a partner?

November 14, 2011
So you're flocking to online dating sites with a wish list of ideal traits that you desire in a mate. Not so fast!

Recommended for you

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

For older adults, volunteering could improve brain function

October 17, 2017
Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health ...

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.