How humans cognitively manage an abundance of mate options

The Researchers: A. P. Lenton and M. Francesconi

Published In: Psychological Science, Vol. 21(4), pp.528-533, 2010


Fewer options, better mate choice.


Ever feel like you’d find “the one” if only you had more options? Well, heed this: When there’s more fish in the sea, you choose a less compatible mate!

In this study, volunteers attended either small or large speed dating events, and reported whether or not they’d go on a date with each candidate they met.

At the small speed-dating events (15-23 partners), participants chose dates based on meaningful traits, like career and education, which are important for long-term compatibility. But those at the large speed-dating events (24-31 partners) were much more superficial. They chose dates based on trivial, quick-to-assess characteristics, like height and weight.

Why? When we have too many choices, our brains get overwhelmed, so we’re less able to make nuanced decisions, and our snap ‘hot-or-not’ judgments win out. To really find the one, cast your line in a smaller pool. 

Beauty connection

Of course physical attraction matters, but getting serious for looks alone is a recipe for disaster. If you long for a connection that goes more than skin deep, try meeting people at more intimate gatherings. Choosing a compatible partner is about finding someone with similar goals, values and interests—all traits that are harder to see when you’re blinded by too many options.

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