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Richard J. Crisp Ph.D.
Richard J. Crisp Ph.D.

On a rollercoaster, sweating, wearing red: The perfect date!

Some signs you might be dating a social psychologist

When it comes to dating, social psychologists have an unfair advantage. There's a wealth of research out there showing what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to attracting members of the opposite sex. In the interests of leveling the playing field, here's five signs to look out for - any of which might indicate that your potential paramour has been reading up on social psychology in their attempts to ensnare you in their sticky web of love ...

1. The lady's in red.

Recent findings suggest that, relative to a range of other colors, red unconsciously signals attractiveness and sexual desirability to men. So men, if your date's a lady in red, she might be trying to tickle your chromatic fancy. Mind you, the research also showed that men are totally oblivious to the effect, so you probably won't notice.

2. Sweat.

Seriously, although only if your date is a man, has a symmetrical face, and asks you whether you're ovulating. According to Thornhill and Gangestad human sex pheromone's can be highly effective at influencing women's impression of men. The researchers asked female participants to smell a bunch of men's sweaty shirts and rate their owners for pleasantness, sexiness and intensity. Without having set eyes on any of them, women preferred the smell of men who had an objectively symmetrical face. However, the effect only occurred when women were about to ovulate. So if your date is sweating with gay abandon they're probably banking on the pheromones.

3. Impeccable planning.

If you're a man, interacting with the opposite sex can have a detrimental impact on your cognitive functioning. A recent study has shown that male participants' scores on tests of mental ability fell following a mixed-sex interaction, while women were unaffected by the sex of their interaction partner. This effect seemed to be down to men's attempts to create a good impression on their female partner (and an inability to do this while doing something else at the same time, i.e., multi-task). So if your male date has everything exceedingly well planned, they may be attempting to ensure they don't have to devote mental energy to anything other than keeping their foot out of their mouth.

4. A concerted effort to avoid disclosing anything of a personal nature whatsoever.

If your date is giving less away than the writers of the final season of Lost, then they might be well versed in social penetration theory. According to this theory, self-disclosure is great for relationships; it builds intimacy and generates a sense of closeness. But this is only when it is gradual and well paced (otherwise its like, y'know, a bit weird). And remember it works both ways. So no matter how well that first date is going, if you get the urge to tell your new soul-mate all about your previous 10 relationships ... well, just don't.

5. Hey, lets go on that rollercoaster!

If your date suggests a ride on a rollercoaster (or any other activity that is likely to get the pulse racing), they've probably read a classic study by Dutton and Aron. In this study an attractive female researcher asked men to carry out some psychological tests atop the 230ft high Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge in Canada (compared to a group who did the same, but on a much lower and more secure bridge). The findings revealed that men who completed the tests on the swaying suspension bridge were more likely to call the attractive researcher later on for further details of the study.

"Further details?" yeah right.

See humans are sometimes pretty bad at working out why we feel the way we do, especially when the same physiological reaction is associated with two very different situations. Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea and muscle weakness ... these are reactions one might feel when anxious (such as when atop a swaying 230ft bridge) but also when sexually aroused. In this study the men misattributed their physiological fear response, caused by the swaying bridge, to sexual attraction for the female researcher.

So there's five signs that you might be dating a social psychologist, or at least someone who's got a hearty appreciation for experimental research on interpersonal attraction. And the next time your red, reticent, sweaty date invites you on an impeccably planned day out at an amusement park, you'll know what they've been reading.


(1) Elliot, A. J., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men's attraction to women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1150-1164.

(2) Thornhill, R. & Gangestad, S.W. (1999). The scent of symmetry: A human pheromone that signals fitness? Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 175-201.

(3) Karremans, K.C., Verwijmeren, T., Pronk, T.M., & Reitsma, M. (2009). Interacting with women can impair men's cognitive function. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 1041-1044.

(4) Altman, I. & Taylor, D.A. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

(5) Dutton, D.G. & Aron, A.P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 510-517.

About the Author
Richard J. Crisp Ph.D.

Richard J. Crisp, Ph.D., is an expert on the psychology of cognitive bias, social influence, and behavior change. His recent books include The Social Brain and Social Psychology: A Very Short Introduction.

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