When your dinner companion spends the evening looking at his or her phone device, or at the ball game on the television set conveniently on the wall behind you (perhaps explaining their choice of venue, and seat selection), you may wonder if you are even on a date. That is a great question. Because for the same reason that selective attention is one of the most seductive aspects of romantic attraction, inattention is one of the biggest turnoffs.
In a world of multitasking, we often inadvertently display inattention, which can jeopardize relationship development. Divided attention reduces the ability to cultivate chemistry, because distraction transmits disinterest. On the other hand, we have all had the experience of spending time with someone where the chemistry is almost palatable. We could not wait to see them again. What makes the difference? In a word: Attention.
Secrets Revealed Through Speed-Dating Research
We learn much about first-date chemistry through speed-dating research. Speed dating involves a series of face-to-face interactions with prospective romantic partners, often lasting only several minutes. While this sounds exhausting, research reveals that participants are able to glean enough information from these brief interactions to decide whether they would like to see the other person again — and why.
Speed-dating studies are better sources of relational predictive data than meeting people at parties or other social events, because a speed-dating context involves participants who are looking for romantic relationships. Speed dating can arguably also provide a more practical method of gauging potential romantic interest than answering prompts on a questionnaire or responding to a hypothetical scenario, because it involves in-person, face-to-face chemistry.
One common source of attraction revealed through speed-dating research is that of attention.
The Ultimate Aphrodisiac
In a previous post,1 I discussed the seduction of selective attention. Again looking to speed-dating studies, research by Eastwick et al. (2007)2 revealed that perceived unique desire from a speed date prompted reciprocal unique desire. This research corroborates the difference in attractiveness between someone who pays equal attention to everyone, versus someone who seems to be uniquely interested in you. In the absence of obvious red flags that would indicate an ulterior motive, we are far more likely to respond to selective attention.
Yet research indicates that men and women may respond to attention differently.
Women Value Attentiveness More Than Men
Janz et al. (2015) examined the impact of dispositional mindfulness on attraction on a first date in a speed-dating context.3 They adopted a research-based definition of mindfulness as ‘‘paying attention in a particular way—on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,’’ and noted the positive interpersonal effects of mindfulness due to its ability to enhance emotional regulation and communication.
Their results showed that men preferred physically attractive women notwithstanding the woman's degree of mindfulness, while women valued mindfulness in men more than physical attractiveness. This finding was unexpected, as prior studies have indicated that women would prioritize male physical attractiveness.
Janz et al. speculated that perhaps men high in mindfulness pay more attention to dating partners during these brief meetings, and may be better communicators. They note that this would be consistent with research linking high dispositional mindfulness to increased attention and effective communication in social settings.
They also note that men with a higher degree of dispositional mindfulness may be able to interact without being adversely affected by the anxiety associated with speed dating. The link between mindfulness and less anxiety in social settings may also have caused the men higher in mindfulness to be better communicators.
At the end of the day, whether sparks fly or conversation fizzles, first dates provide an opportunity to make new friends. And because attention reveals intention, both romantically and platonically, every first date can be a win-win.
Paul W. Eastwick, Eli J. Finkel, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, “Selective Versus Unselective Romantic Desire: Not All Reciprocity Is Created Equal,” Psychological Science 18, no. 4 (2007): 317- 319.
Philip Janz, Christopher A. Pepping, and W. Kim Halford, “Individual differences in dispositional mindfulness and initial romantic attraction: A speed dating experiment,” Personality and Individual Differences 82, (2015): 14-19.