First date study: Most daters develop first impressions quickly, but location is key

MONTREAL, Quebec — The dating world can be treacherous and anxiety-inducing. Everyone wants to make a great impression on a first date, but the high-stakes nature of romantic get-togethers often compel people to put on a façade or “ideal” image of themselves that may not exactly match up with reality. Despite this little game, a new study finds most people can figure out what they need to know about their date in the first meeting, but a lot depends on where they meet them.

Researchers at McGill University set out to investigate if first impressions on a first date are usually reliable. Generally, they report the answer to that question is yes; it’s quite possible to get an accurate idea of someone’s personality on a first date. Study authors caution, however, that it’s harder to form a true opinion of someone on an intimate first date in comparison to more casual, social settings such as a party.

First impressions on first dates might take only a few minutes

The team collected data from 372 participants who had taken part in a series of speed-dating events in Montreal between 2017 and 2018. Each person filled out a survey inquiring about their personality. A close family member of each participant also filled out a similar survey about the study subject’s personality.

Each speed-dater took part in multiple three-minute first dates and then rated each date’s personality. The average participant could successfully get an accurate idea of their dates’ personalities, but some people were much easier to read than others.

“Some people are open books whose distinctive personalities can be accurately perceived after a brief interaction, whereas others are harder to read,” says study co-author Lauren Gazzard Kerr, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology, in a university release. “Strikingly, people who report higher well-being, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life tend to make the task easier.”

Does being an ‘open book’ have to do with well-being?

As far as why this was the case, researchers theorize some people just do a better job of displaying their personality than others. “Perhaps people that have greater well-being behave in ways that are more in line with their personality – being more authentic or true to themselves,” explains McGill Assistant Professor Lauren Human.

The opposite may also be true; perhaps those who people perceive more clearly end up developing a healthier sense of well-being. Prof. Human says at this point the research team can’t say.

Moving forward, researchers would like to continue investigating the delicate implications of impressions on a first date, such as how those impressions ultimately dictate romantic interest or disinterest later on. “Understanding why some people are able to be seen more accurately could help us determine strategies that other people could apply to enhance how accurately they are perceived,” Prof. Human concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of Research in Personality.