On the cover of his recent book, Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari is pictured standing against a white background, with hearts over his eyes, looking down solemnly at his cell phone. The image evokes some confusion (he appears to be searching for something and doesn’t appear very happy). It seems Ansari has set out to clarify things; his book aims to tackle many important questions that young adults have in the dating world of 2015. What makes a person attractive? Can people really find love through a website or a phone app? Are people only interested in sex these days? How does dating in America compare to dating in Europe, Asia, or South America? And what’s the secret to a happy relationship? Ansari is attempting to capture the essence of close relationships in our era and to address the existential crises that many millennials feel as they try to navigate their lives and make the right decisions. Ansari is a powerful voice for my generation – one that speaks with confidence, clarity, and creativity. He is a comedian, a writer, and an actor – he’s starred in some very popular TV shows and movies, and is a prolific stand-up comic. But Ansari stands out from his colleagues in that his book strives for scientific accuracy. He’s not just looking to make people laugh, he’s looking to educate them and to shine a light on some mystifying social phenomena. In writing this book, Ansari teamed up with renowned sociologist Eric Klinenberg and consulted with several high-profile psychologists including Barry Schwartz, Helen Fisher, Eli Finkel, Sheena Iyengar, and others.
Entries in dating (115)
“There’s just something hot about men or women in uniform.” You’ve probably heard people say something like this. But what is it about a uniform that makes a person look more attractive? Here are 3 possible explanations based in science for why uniforms increase attractiveness...
Unfortunately, every romantic relationship does not end happily ever after. For a myriad of reasons, after people get married the romantic love they feel towards their partners often decreases.1 As a result, those relationships could end in divorce.
To better understand how the experience of divorce affects how individuals’ think about relationships, researchers conducted a series of in-depth interviews with divorced men and women aged 21 to 63.2 The interviews focused on how divorcees interpreted their experiences and used them to redefine how they approached intimacy in their (new) post-divorce relationships. Analysis of the interviews indicated a primary theme of post-divorce relationships was the view of intimacy based on equal friendship, respect for individual differences, and each person having a sense of self-sufficiency.
Why People Flirt
Flirting comes in many forms: a casual gaze that lingers a half second longer than normal, a light touch, a “flirty face”, an overenthusiastic laugh during conversation, or even some overtly sexual or playful banter. Regardless of the technique employed, flirting aims to fulfill one purpose: stimulate sexual interest. To be clear, flirting’s pursuit of sexual interest may not have the explicit goal of having sex or even physical intimacy of any kind. Rather, a person may flirt simply to pass the time, to feel close, to see if they still “have it” or because it is fun.1 Flirting motivations differ by gender with men’s flirting more motivated by sex, while women’s flirting more motivated by having fun or to become closer to another person.
When people logon to a dating site, whether it is UK.Cupid.com or Match.com, what determines who ends up with who? Although there are a myriad of factors that lead individuals to form romantic attachments, a longstanding theory in relationship science makes a simple prediction. Specifically, the matching hypothesis predicts that people will pair up with a partner who has the same social mate value.1 Your social mate value includes all of the factors that go into making you more or less desirable to date such as your physical attractiveness, your personality, etc. Essentially, according to the matching hypothesis, if you’re in London dating and are a “7” out of 10 in terms of mate value you’ll end up with another “7,” or very close. “10’s” go with “10’s,” “2’s” with “2’s” and so on.
Perhaps due to the matching hypothesis’s intuitive appeal, the field of social psychology has largely accepted it as true, despite a general lack of empirical support. To address this gap between theory and data, researchers from the University of California – Berkeley tested the matching hypothesis across several studies.
Even in the best relationships, individuals may find themselves lacking information about specific relationship partners (romantic or otherwise). For example, as we’ve discussed previously, anxiously attached partners are more likely to Facebook stalk their partners in an attempt to alleviate anxiety and (hopefully) confirm their partners’ undying devotion. Such findings suggest that individuals use the internet as a means to cope with their own desires to learn more about another.
As we’ve previously written, people tend to pair up romantically with partners who are about as attractive as they are. So the most attractive people pair up with each other, followed by the next most attractive people pairing up, etc., all the way down the attractiveness scale. Scientists call this assortative mating.1 How do we know this assortative mating occurs? There is a correlation between two partners’ levels of attractiveness. This means that as one partner’s attractiveness increases, the other partner tends to be more attractive as well. People want the best partner they can get, and the more attractive a person you are, the better mate you can snag.
Although we do have some scientific evidence for assortative mating, this phenomenon really only makes sense when it is very clear who the most attractive people are. And this is not always the case.
Individuals in committed romantic relationships tend to downplay the attractiveness of potential partners. This derogation of alternatives, as researchers refer to it, helps the relationship’s long-term future by decreasing the likelihood that partners will be tempted by others.1 To determine whether somebody derogates alternatives, researchers typically straight-up ask them (e.g., “I regularly find myself looking at attractive others”) or, more sneakily, record how long (heterosexual) individuals look at pictures of opposite-sex people when presented with a range of photos. What both of these measures have in common is they basically rely on what people look at. But what about the other senses? Do we derogate in other ways? Follow the nose….
Online dating is increasingly popular, and yet misinformation about the industry abounds. Let’s examine four common myths, and why they're wrong:
1. Everyone is lying
There is a widespread belief that dating sites are filled with dishonest people trying to take advantage of earnest, unsuspecting singles. Research does show that a little exaggeration in online dating profiles is common.1 But it's common in offline dating as well. Whether online or off, people are more likely to lie in a dating context than in other social situations.2 As I detailed in an earlier post, the most common lies told by online daters concern age and physical appearance. Gross misrepresentations about education or relationship status are rare, in part because people realize that once they meet someone in person and begin to develop a relationship, serious lies are highly likely to be revealed.3
In the age of online dating, science-based information about the ins and outs of dating services is both timely and important. One digital dating app has seen tremendous rises in popularity since its release - we're speaking of course about Tinder.
Tinder is a bare bones dating app that allows users to filter in rapid succession through photos of other users who are potential matches. Who you see in your pool of potential matches is based on a very limited set of criteria, customizable to the user – age, location, and gender. When two users mutually rate each other favorably (both swipe right), they are “matched,” which prompts the app to open a dialogue between the two users (basically a texting service within the application). The rest is left to the matched users.
Interestingly, there is no scientific research out there specifically about Tinder (we are unaware of any published scientific papers in psychology or related fields that focus on behavior on Tinder). This lack of data might be because of its novelty—Tinder was released in late 2012. The lack of research could also be due to the fact that Tinder's mainstream popularity is even more recent. Despite the lack of scientific data, however, like all things that attain mainstream popularity, Tinder has been subject to both criticism and support from the general public.
Mary is browsing through Cosmopolitan magazine reading article title after article title promising to provide useful dating advice. She then decides to create an online profile for a dating site, with the hope that online dating will help her meet someone new. What she doesn’t realize is that looking at those article titles, combined with the current state of her (i.e., how she feels about herself) may have just influenced what she put on her dating profile.
Online daters aren’t really that different from offline daters. I often hear my students claim that people who use online dating are “weirdos” or “that’s for people who can’t get dates in real life.” But the idea that people who prefer online dating are somehow different than offline daters is not supported by science. First of all, different how, exactly? In terms of general personality traits (e.g., openness to new experiences, neuroticism), online and offline daters are not significantly different from each other.1
One study did find that people who have used online dating (ever in their lives) were more sensitive to rejection compared to non-users—but this was a general “have you ever used online dating in your life” question and did not differentiate between one-time users and regular users.
People are shallow. Psychological science has demonstrated that people often use a “what is beautiful is good” mental shortcut.1 People tend to assume positive characteristics about others based on physical attractiveness, even though these perceptions are not accurate. This bias for beauty has been shown in all types of contexts that are not limited to online dating. A classic study from the 60s on in-person dating found that a date’s hot body/face predicted romantic attraction more than personality traits, intelligence, popularity/charisma, mental health, and self-esteem.
Though still quite new (relatively) in our culture, and a bit daunting, more and more people are venturing into the online dating world for romance and sex. Below, I’ve compiled some evidence-based tips to help you navigate online dating websites and, hopefully, find what you’re looking for.
People aren’t always what they seem. Deception is common in online dating—and I’m not talking about Catfishing, I’m talking about people presenting themselves as somewhat better than they actually are (taller, thinner, smarter, sexier, wealthier, fewer cats, etc.). This type of self-enhancement is a subtle form of deception, but deception all the same.1 Most people who make an online dating profile do this, which makes sense because pretty much everyone fudges a little bit. This strategic self-presentation is not limited to online dating; it happens in a lot of different social contexts (consider how we portray ourselves on resumes).
Relationships frequently fall apart due to irreconcilable incompatibilities. Sometimes these incompatibilities are so large that they seem like they should have been obvious from the start (e.g., one person wants children, the other partner doesn’t; one person is deeply religious, the other isn't). Why don’t such dealbreakers prevent relationships from getting off the ground in the first place? Why do people so frequently wind up with incompatible romantic partners?
We’re all likely familiar with the idea that love is energizing; for example, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes encapsulated this notion in their 1982 single Up Where We Belong when they sang, “Love lifts us up where we belong....” But does love really physically energize us? It’s definitely possible. Love is associated with positive emotions and simply thinking about love can trigger stress responses (such as increases in cortisol) in the body, responses thought to result from arousal or passion. One intriguing thing that can happen when your body releases cortisol is that you get an accompanying rush of glucose (blood sugar) to give you extra energy. Since thinking about your romantic partner can increase stress hormones like cortisol, it may follow that you can also get a glucose boost from thinking about your partner.
Consuming alcohol can both benefit and harm romantic relationships. For example, drinking can be a way for couple members to connect—perhaps over a bottle of wine—and share their week. However, if someone believes their partner drinks too much, it can strain the relationship. Some recent research1 explored how perceiving one’s partner as having a drinking problem might be associated with relationship quality among college students. In addition, the researchers examined the use of drinking regulation strategies, or the behaviors that people use to try to change their partner’s drinking (such as yelling or withdrawing).
Bob is interested in dating Anne and thinks that they could really click, but he is unsure whether Anne feels the same way. As a result, Bob is afraid to make a move on Anne because he doesn’t want to be rejected. So Bob plays it cool, thinking that his interest is obvious to Anne, and waits to see if Anne will ask him out. Anne, who is interested in Bob, is also worried about being rejected, and so she also plays it cool and waits to see if Bob will ask her out. They are both holding back because they each fear rejection, but because neither of them make a move, they both assume each is disinterested in the other. They also both think their worries about rejection and interest in dating are obvious. Alas, Bob and Anne never end up dating, because they both waited for the other to make the first move and when the move didn’t happen, they assumed the other was disinterested. You may have experienced versions of this scenario in your own life, or seen it played out on TV or in movies. In this post, I describe research on how the fear of rejection affects how people think and behave when trying to start a new relationship (what researchers refer to as relationship initiation).
“Roses are red, violets are blue; when I’m around flowers I’m more attracted to you!”
Whether it's red roses for Valentine’s Day or a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers as a bride walks down the aisle, flowers are inextricably linked with relationships. But can the mere presence of flowers influence actual relationship behavior? To test this question, a French researcher randomly assigned female participants to watch a video of a male discussing food while participants were either (a) sitting in a room decorated with three vases full of flowers (roses, marigolds, and daisies), or (b) sitting in a room decorated with empty vases.1 Women who sat in the room with flowers rated the male in the video as sexier and more attractive, and they were more willing to date him.