Rebecca Coffey

The Bejeezus Out of Me

A Fake Dating Site and an Astonishing Political Opportunity

Did scientists find a way to gain political support for the social safety net?

Posted Apr 14, 2020

 Wyatt Fisher/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Source: Wyatt Fisher/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Three researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia make no claim to magical powers of foresight. Still, they seem to have stumbled on one way to increase popular support for public relief efforts, such as free medical care for people who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus disaster. 

The secret to finding support? It’s going to sound impossibly pedantic: boost favorable attitudes about wealth sharing in general. I know. Politicians have been trying to do that for nearly 244 years. But now it might actually be easier—though it may require a little chicanery.

Evolutionary psychologists Francesca Luberti, Khandis Blake, and Robert Brooks of the university’s Evolution and Ecology Research Center were actually just hoping to shed light on the origin of political differences when they created a faux online dating site for roughly 1100 test participants. On the site, the participants aged 18 to 60 input information about age and income, values and political beliefs, and the sorts of people they wanted to date. (Because the data were collected through Amazon's Mechanical Turk, most study participants were Americans.)

The team looked at how factors like age, sex, and income correlate with sociopolitical attitudes. There were few surprises to be found. Remarkably, though, when the team artificially manipulated either the participants’ apparent popularity (i.e., “Lots of people like you!”) or the size of the mating market (“There are so many fish in the sea!”), they began to see a shift in one of several sociopolitical points of view.

The shift was specifically about money. When participants were artificially made to feel desired by potential mates or were convinced that the field of suitable mates was big, as a group they became more liberal in their ideas about wealth distribution.

The researchers looked to evolutionary psychology for an explanation. They surmised, in short: Mating is so necessary to the survival of the species that it is a primary urge, and crucial resources get allocated to it. When someone is made to believe that finding an excellent mate is likely, all of a sudden mating doesn’t seem so expensive, and extra money can seem to be lying around.

Internet trolls and their tricks are available to operatives on both ends of the political spectrum. With this new research in mind, could false messages about an abundance of mating opportunities be strategically emailed to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of something like Medicare for all? (“Good news! Within the past few months, there has been an influx of singles into your city. Use the link below to let your Congressperson know that you want every American to have free, excellent, and easily accessible health care.”)

Come to think of it, deception really isn’t necessary. Operatives could place on bona fide dating sites ads promoting “share the wealth” messages—and they could select as the ads’ viewers only people whom the dating site has flagged as popular. (“Your chances of mating and dating are looking very good. So, go ahead. Use the link below to let your Congressperson know that you want ... etc., etc.”)

The researchers from the Evolution and Ecology Research Center at the University of New South Wales were not on the hunt for ammo in the political wealth sharing wars. Even so, they may have made gaining financial support for the unlucky far easier.

References

Luberti, Francesca R, et al. “The Effects of the Mating Market, Sex, Age, and Income on Sociopolitical Orientation : Insights from Evolutionary Theory and Sexual Economics Theory.” Human Nature (Hawthorne, N.Y.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31916195. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31916195

Photo by Wyatt Fisher. www.christiancrush.com