DAVIS, Calif. — We’ve all seen them and some of us have probably written a few too. Dating site profiles encourage users to be specific when describing what they’re looking for in a romantic partner. You might say you want someone who’s adventurous, intelligent, or the popular “down-to-earth.” As it turns out, however, your prefences don’t really matter, according to a new study. Researchers say you’re just as likely to swoon over the characteristics a complete stranger picks out for your date!
“The people in our study could very easily list their top three attributes in an ideal partner,” Jehan Sparks from the University of California, Davis says in a release. “We wanted to see whether those top three attributes really mattered for the person who listed them. As it turns out, they didn’t.”
The study looks at over 700 participants who selected the qualities they find most desirable in a partner. Those range from funny, to attractive, to thoughtful and inquisitive. The subjects then rated their desire for a relationship with people they know, like former blind dates, romantic partners, and friends.
Finding love isn’t so black and white
Initially, researchers found the group has a stronger attraction to people matching their ideal qualities. That is to say if Anne lists funny and attractive, the study finds Anne shows more desire for funny and attractive partners.
“On the surface, this looks promising,” psychology professor Paul Eastwick says, but the research doesn’t end there. The UC-Davis team then revealed the top three attributes a complete stranger finds appealing in the members of each participant’s social circle.
Once the subjects looked at those qualities too, they showed more desire to be with people having these traits. In other words, if Julie says she likes people who are smart, Anne now starts taking an interest in smart people too.
“So, in the end, we want partners who have positive qualities,” Sparks explains. “But the qualities you specifically list do not actually have special predictive power for you.”
‘Let your friends pick your dates for you’
The study authors say this matchmaking mess often plays out in the online dating scene. Users can spend hours swiping through profiles looking for a “perfect” match. The problem the psychology study finds is your preferences aren’t as strict as you think. The UC-Davis team says forget your “type” and go mingle.
“Why do we order off the menu for ourselves? Because it seems obvious that I will like what I get to pick,” Prof. Eastwick adds. “Our findings suggest that, in the romantic domain, you might as well let a random stranger order for you — you’re just as likely to end up liking what you get.”
“Don’t be too picky ahead of time about whether a partner matches your ideals on paper. Or, even better, let your friends pick your dates for you,” Sparks suggests.
The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.