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The Science of Speed Dating

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

The science of speed dating: What you need to know

Speed dating is a popular way to meet new people and potentially find a romantic partner. But did you know that there's actually a science behind speed dating?

A study by Alison Lenton and Marco Francesconi found that people who are presented with a wider range of potential partners are less likely to follow up with any of them. This is because they have more options to choose from, so they're less likely to feel a connection with any one person. Our real or perceived access to hundreds or even thousands of options using dating apps can lead to what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the "Paradox of Choice." We have to put so much effort into the process of narrowing down the list that we would often rather walk away than finally make one.

Another study by Dan Ariely found that people tend to make judgments about potential partners based on searchable characteristics, such as weight and height. However, these characteristics aren't always the best indicators of compatibility. Doctors Kniffin and Wilson from SUNY conducted an experiment in 2004 that resulted in hard evidence that personality can have a big impact on who we find attractive. They asked participants to rate each other's attractiveness on a scale of 1 to ten and again after sampling each other's personalities and the results were dramatically different. We've all experienced the hot guy becoming far less attractive when he bullies a waiter or the woman you wouldn't even notice in a lineup becoming more attractive when you realize she has an infectious positivity. Online and even in social settings like a bar, we often filter out beautiful people and hone in on potentially harmful people based purely on superficial factors that become far less important once we get a chance to talk to someone.

Speed Dating narrows down the field to a manageable number usually around a dozen to keep you from getting overwhelmed with analysis paralysis while still offering enough variety to likely find someone you click with. In-person connections like speed dating can also expose you to that "it factor" known as chemistry, a combination of pheromones and subtle body language that trigger our mirror neurons that actually make up the most reliable indicator of compatibility. In our experience, chemistry can overcome not just a few extra pounds or a weird nose, but other things we thought were deal killers like religion, politics, kids, and even distance.

So, what does all of this mean for you? If you're considering speed dating, it's important to keep these findings in mind. Don't be afraid to be yourself, and don't focus too much on searchable characteristics. Instead, focus on having fun and getting to know potential partners.


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