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Why the Most Perceptive People Are the Least Interested on First Dates

Research reveals how distinctive accuracy decreases romantic interest.

Key points

  • Many people fall in love for all the wrong reasons, including a romanticized notion of what their partner is really like.
  • Time spent projecting positive qualities onto an attractive stranger could instead be used to actually learn about a prospective partner.
  • In a dating context, distinctively accurate impressions have been linked with significantly less romantic interest.
  • Extraversion positively impacts the effect of distinctive accuracy on dating first impressions.
Mix Tape/Shutterstock
Source: Mix Tape/Shutterstock

Many people fall in love for all the wrong reasons, including a romanticized notion of what their partner is really like. How does this happen? Red flags are muted and obscured by idealized fantasy scripts, transforming a partner into a perfect mate. Obviously, because no one can live up to such false (and unfair) relational expectations, disappointment often prompts dissolution.

On the other hand, overly perceptive daters might miss the warm, fuzzy feeling of relationship fantasy—daydreaming about how wonderful a prospective paramour could be. But in the balance, is that a bad thing? Time spent projecting positive qualities onto an attractive stranger could instead be used to actually learn about your new love interest. Research informs wise decision-making in this regard.

Blind at First Sight

Gazzard Kerr et al. (2020) tackled the issue of first impression accuracy in romance in a piece entitled “Blind at First Sight.”[i] They note that distinctive accuracy, described as “the degree to which personality impressions correspond with targets’ unique characteristics,” frequently prompts positive interpersonal interaction, including feeling a sense of liking and relationship satisfaction. Examining whether distinctive accuracy worked during first dates using two speed-dating samples, they found positive impressions of potential dating partners to be strongly correlated with a higher degree of romantic interest. In contrast, they found that distinctively accurate impressions were linked with significantly less romantic interest. Perhaps not surprisingly, they found this latter association was even more robust when spending time with potential partners who had personalities that were less romantically appealing, especially when their personalities were less extraverted.

When More Is Less

Kerr et al. concluded that on a first date, more accuracy appears to generate less romantic interest. Some might view this as counterintuitive, until we recognize the role of romanticizing within the early stages of a relationship. Interestingly, however, Kerr et al. found that for people with higher degrees of extraversion, a higher amount of distinctive accuracy was not significantly related or positively related to romantic interest. Therefore, the ability to form distinctively accurate impressions may decrease rather than increase the development of that loving feeling, particularly when on a date with someone less extraverted—a trait seen as undesirable in the first-date context. Kerr et al. note that romantic interest may itself hinder distinctive accuracy, especially when assessing introverts, who are harder to read.

Summarizing their investigation, Kerr et al. note that distinctive accuracy involves understanding what makes a date different from the average person. In their words, “does romantic interest start by using only rose-colored glasses, or is a magnifying glass necessary, too?” Lest you think this is all about skepticism, they also recognize that positivity and accuracy when it comes to perceiving characteristics of others can exist independently, while both confer relational benefits with romantic partners as well as new platonic acquaintances.

First Date, First Impression

Kerr et al. recognize that first dates are unique in the sense that positive impressions are likely to be particularly important in generating interest, which raises the question of how distinctive accuracy impacts the “feeling” we have towards our partners. They note that on a first date, romantic interest could impact distinctive accuracy, but acknowledge that it is unclear whether a higher degree of interest would stimulate attention and a higher amount of distinctive accuracy, or whether it would create distraction, leading to a rosy impression that is also less distinctively accurate.

Apparently, not only do we have one chance to make a first impression, but how we are perceived depends at least in part on the accuracy of our partner’s perception.

Facebook image: Mix Tape/Shutterstock


[i] Gazzard Kerr, Lauren, Hasagani Tissera, M. Joy McClure, John E. Lydon, Mitja D. Back, and Lauren J. Human. 2020. “Blind at First Sight: The Role of Distinctively Accurate and Positive First Impressions in Romantic Interest.” Psychological Science 31 (6): 715–28. doi:10.1177/0956797620919674.