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People often worry about what potential dating partners think and feel. They believe that prospective lovers form strong opinions of them and make choices based on those attitudes. So, they often work hard to get their partner to "like" them up front and become attracted - hoping that preference will translate into a date, phone number, flowers, etc. But, the world frequently doesn't work that way. Initial opinion often matters less than initial compliance.
Much of the time, people simply make choices due to situational factors, unconscious influences and persuasion, rather than due to strong preferences. Then, they backwards rationalize after-the-fact. In other words, rather than choosing what they like - most people end up just liking whatever they choose. That means, if you can persuade the guy you like to ask you out, he will find you more attractive AFTER he does the asking. Or, that girl will find you more likable AFTER you convince her to give you her phone number. Persuasion and influence leads...while preference and opinion change follows to match.
This process may seem surreal, but it is supported by a long line of research...
Research on Choice Blindness, Introspection, Post-Decision Dissonance, and Self-Perception
Johansson and associates (2005) pulled a sneaky trick on research participants. They first asked men and women to choose between presented pairs of female faces on the basis of attractiveness. The participants then were handed the chosen photo and asked to describe why that person was more attractive. But, on some trials, a switch was made. The participants were actually handed the photo that they DIDN'T choose.
Participants barely noticed when a switch was made (only 13% of the time). Essentially, they couldn't tell the difference between who they chose and didn't. Furthermore, they described the attractiveness of all photos handed to them with equal emotionality, specificity, and certainty. In other words, after they had a photo in their hands, they found that person more attractive (even if they didn't really "choose" that person to begin with). Overall, they ended up "liking who they got". The researchers call this "choice blindness".
The group has repeated this effect in 2008 with more faces and abstract art. They did it again in 2010 with flavored jam and tea. In all cases, participants usually didn't notice the switch. They also ended up liking more whatever they get. Their initial preferences really didn't matter.
The history of research on this topic actually stretches back to the 1950's. It is summarized nicely by Ariely and Norton (2008) who succinctly note that "actions create - not just reveal - preferences". It appears that individuals come to rationalize the decisions they have already made, in order to reduce any incongruence or regret they might feel (called Post-Decision Dissonance; Brehm, 1956). They are also notoriously bad at introspection and catching the many subtle external influences on their behavior - although they are good at coming up with false justifications afterwards (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). Finally, individuals look at their past behavior to infer their own attitudes, opinions, and feelings (called Self-Perception; Bem, 1972). All together, people usually end up reacting to unknown influences and then rationalizing that they like what they did (or chose) after-the-fact.
What This Means for Your Love Life
Early on, don't fret about your partners' opinions and preferences. Just get them to say yes (especially to something small and positive). Use a bit of influence. Persuade them to the best of your ability. Their post-choice rationalizing and justifying will take care of the rest. To persuade a date see articles here, here, and here.
This idea is often a "freeing" concept for many people. Too often, people get tangled up in concerns about what others initially think of them - especially in dating. They get frozen, believing the worst is true. When, in reality, others' early opinions don't influence their decisions that much and easily change. Most likely, they really don't have a strong opinion about you to start - until they make a choice or two. Why let that choice be arbitrary? If they don't really care until after-the-fact, why not influence the decision in your favor?
At least, up to a point...
A Point of Caution: This effect should only be used for small and initial decisions. You can get into a lot of trouble if you persuade someone to marry you or have sex, and then hope they will be ok with it after-the-fact. The more serious the decision, the bigger the dissonance, the harder it is to justify, and the more likely an individual will decide that you're coercive (instead of attractive). Besides, later in a relationship, your partner should develop strong positive opinions about you and proactively choose intimacy and commitment anyway. If they don't - DON'T PUSH. In fact, just go find somebody else who will choose you back.
Don't worry whether others find you attractive at first. Instead, focus on just getting them to choose you in some small ways. It doesn't matter whether they initially show up for coffee because you're gorgeous...or because they love cappuccino. It only matters that they show up. So, concentrate on getting that early yes, by any (scrupulous) means necessary. Their attraction, liking, and positive attitudes will naturally follow afterwards.
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Until next time...happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor
- Ariely, D., & Norton, M. I. (2008). How actions create - not just reveal - preferences. Trends in Cognitive Science, 12, 13-16.
- Bem, D. J. (1972). Self-perception theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 6, 1-62.
- Brehm, J. W. (1956). Postdecision changes in the desirability of alternatives. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 52, 384-389.
- Hall, L., Johansson, P., Tarning, B., Sikstrom, S., & Deutgen, T. (2010). Magic at the marketplace: Choice blindness for the taste of jam and the smell of tea. Cognitition, 117, 54-61.
- Johansson, P., Hall, L., & Sikstrom, S. (2008). From change blindness to choice blindness. Psychologia, 51, 142-155.
- Johansson, P., Hall, L., Sikstrom, S., & Olsson, A. (2005). Failure to detect mismatches between intention and outcome in a simple decision task. Science, 310, 116-119.
- Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we can know. Psychological Review, 84, 231-259.
© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.