Beautiful Minds

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Speed Dating: Is it Worth Your Time?

What are the chances of mating and relating after a speed dating event?

Since I moved to NYC, I've been to some speed dating events.

In one event, there was hardly any space between the tables. I could hear every awkward conversation, and not just my own. I did have some nice chats, but I had to wonder: was it worth it?

There's some new research on speed dating, coming from researchers in Germany (Asendorpf, Penke, and Back, in press). They set up a speed-dating event and invited a total of 382 people (190 men and 192 women) who were aged 18-54 to participate. All of their participants were real singles whose sole motivation for participation in the study was to find a real-life romantic or sexual mate. Participants went on a series of 3-minute dates and indicated whom they would like to see again. They were followed-up by the researchers six weeks and 12 months after the speed-dating session.

Consistent with parental investment theory, women, on average, tended to state an interest in long-term mating more so than men did. This was only relative though: both men and women reported a desire for long-term mating, and most men in this dating context did choose a long-term mating orientation. This suggests that a speed-dating context is one that generally attracts people pursuing long-term mating tactics (or at least report that they do!).

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Who were the popular ones? Popularity was heavily influenced by easily perceivable physical attributes such as facial and vocal attractiveness, height, and weight. Sex differences were also evident, with men mainly basing their decisions on facial attractiveness and women using more criteria, including high levels of sociosexuality (willingness and desire to engage in short-term sexual encounters), low levels of shyness, and cues of current or future resource providing potential such as height, education, income, and openness to experience (but not indicators of steady resource striving such as conscientiousness). These popularity effects were not significantly influenced by age.

Sociosexuality and shyness did a better job predicting popularity in this speed dating context than the personality traits extraversion and neuroticism, which are correlated with sociosexuality and shyness, respectively (sociosexuality with extraversion, shyness with neuroticism). The researchers relate this finding to the bandwidth-fidelity trade-off found in personality research, in which

"narrower traits that are tailored to specific situational contexts and behaviours often outperform broader traits in predictive power, whereas broader traits often outperform narrower traits if the goal is to predict many different behaviours in many different contexts." 

In fact, sociosexuality was the most important predictor of popularity once physical attributes were already taken into account, and also provided additional prediction of popularity above and beyond physical attractiveness. Since most women expressed an interest in long-term mating, it is surprising that they would be attracted to a man who came across as preferring a short-term mating orientation. The researchers raise the possibility that a male's sociosexuality may indicate his history of successful mating experiences or mating skills (i.e., high mating intelligence), and that this is attractive to women. Another reason may be that those with a short-term mating orientation may have been more extraverted, and their extraverted behaviors were noticed and remembered more. Other research has shown that Extraverts do better than introverts in a rapid mating context such as speed dating (Luo & Zhang, 2009; also see Popularty at First Sight).

It should also be noted that the relationship between shyness and popularity was negative: the more shy the man appeared, the less popular the man. The researchers suggest that this may be due to traditional male sex roles, which require men to be assertive and proactive in the mating domain, skills that may not come as easily to shy guys. Also, since shyness is correlated with neuroticism, shy individuals may have come across as socially anxious, which may have made their dating partner feel uncomfortable.

The popularity of the speed-dater was also positively related to the choosiness of that speed-dater, although the correlation was only significant among men (perhaps due to the fact that women on average were choosier than men). As the researchers note, this finding is consistent with the idea that highly popular people are thought to be more careful in their choices while unpopular people are thought to be more indiscriminative (see Penke et al., 2007).

They also found an age effect: the older the women, the less choosy she was and the older the man, the more choosy he was. This is consistent with age-related context-dependent mating strategies. The researchers also found rather weak effects of similarity, a finding probably due to the brief interactions these individuals engaged in. Most certainly, it takes more time than 3-minutes to form a deep connection.

What about the follow-up? They found that the chances of mating (i.e., having sex) with a speed-dating partner was 6%, whereas the chances of relating (i.e. ending up in a long-term relationship) with a speed-dating partner was 4%. These numbers were influenced by the mating orientation of the other sex, however. The chances of a women mating increased if their partner had a short-term mating orientation, and the chances of a man mating increased if their partner had a long-term mating orientation. This finding was confirmed both after 6 weeks and 1 year after the speed-dating event.

The researchers put the findings in perspective. They figure that the chances of finding a sexual romantic partner will be lower than speed-dating if one visits a café for 2 hours actively in search of a partner and higher if one visits a dive bar with a certain reputation. To further put things in perspective, the researchers converted these percentages into the time and money spent on multiple speed-dating events, assuming that all the events are independent in terms of outcome and that each event costs 30 Euros (roughly $40) and lasts 3 hours. With these assumptions in place, finding a relationship partner would require investing 75 hours and 750 Euros (roughly $1,000) on average.

Is Speed Dating Worth It?

For busy people, speed dating may indeed be worth it.

Personally, I'm going to stick to jazz clubs.

© 2010 by Scott Barry Kaufman

References

Asendorpf, J.B., Penke, L., & Back, M.D. (in press). From dating to mating and relating: Predictors of initial and long-term outcomes of speed-dating in a community sample. European Journal of Personality.

Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What leads to romantic attraction: Similarity, reciprocity, security, or beauty? Evidence from a speed-dating study. Journal of Personality, 77, 933-964.

Penke, L., Todd, P. M., Lenton, A., & Fasolo, B. (2007). How self-assessments can guide human mating decisions. In G. Geher, & G. F. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind's reproductive system (pp. 37-75). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

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