Are Dating Events Superficial? Well, Yes and No
For people who attend dating events, first impressions are everything. Does that mean that dating events are a superficial as a form of finding a partner? Yes and No…Recent research show that it’s more than just whether someone is a hottie or not.
It is easy to make a snap decision about a new face at dating events to decide on someone’s romantic potential in just a few seconds. Now, a recent study by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have found that people make such decisions at dating events based on a combination of two different factors that are related to activity in two distinct parts of the brain.
The first, and obvious, factor in determining whether someone gets a lot of date requests is physical attractiveness. The second factor involves people’s own individual preferences.
In the research study, 39 heterosexual male and female volunteers were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and then shown pictures of potential dates of the opposite sex. They were given four seconds to rate, on a scale from 1 to 4, how much they would want to date that person.
After cycling through as many as 90 faces, the participants then rated the faces again — outside the fMRI machine — on attractiveness and likeability on a scale from 1 to 9. Later, the volunteers participated in a real speed-dating event, in which they spent five minutes talking to some of the potential dates they had rated in the fMRI machine. The participants listed those they wanted to see again; if there were any matches, each person in the pair was given the other’s contact information.
To no one’s surprise, the researchers found that the people who were rated as most attractive by consensus were the ones who got the most date requests. Seeing someone who was deemed attractive (and who also ended up with more date requests) was associated with activity in a region of the rater’s brain called the paracingulate cortex, a part of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), which is an important area for cognitive control and decision making. The paracingulate cortex, in particular, has been shown to be active when the brain is comparing options.
In other words, nearly everyone considers physical attraction when judging a potential romantic partner, and that judgment is correlated with activity in the paracingulate cortex.
That is, the consideration of other people’s thoughts, comparisons of oneself to others, and, in particular, perceptions of similarities with others. This suggests that in addition to physical attractiveness, the researchers say, people consider individual compatibility.
While good looks remains the most important factor in determining whether a person gets a date request, a person’s liveability, as perceived by other individuals, is also important. For example, likeability serves as a tiebreaker if two people have equal attractiveness ratings. If someone thought a potential date was more likeable than other people did, then that someone was more likely to ask for a date.
As for the results of the speed-dating event? A few couples were still together six weeks afterward, Cooper says, but the researchers have not followed up. The study was focused on the neural mechanisms behind snap judgments — how those judgments relate to long-term romantic success, he says, is another question.
The study was published in the November 7 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.