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Too Many Choices? How Humans Cognitively Manage an Abundance of Mate Options

People who have the choice of many potential mates pay very little attention to important characteristics which take more time to elicit.

People who have the choice of many potential mates pay very little attention to important characteristics which take more time to elicit.

Can’t find the right guy or girl for Valentine’s Day? Research suggests you might be looking in the wrong place. A study published in Psychological Science found that people who have the choice of many potential mates pay very little attention to important characteristics which take more time to elicit, and instead choose potential love interests based on trivial characteristics that are quickly and easily assessed.

Volunteers participated in either small (15-23 partners) or large (24-31 partners) speed-dating events and later reported whether or not they wanted to go on a date with each opposite-sex candidate by circling ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ The results show that in small speed-dating sessions, people made choices based primarily on important characteristics such as religious affiliation, occupation, university degree, and smoking status—all key factors in determining future compatibility. Those in large speed-dating sessions instead made choices based on quick and easy-to-assess characteristics such as age, height, body mass index, and weight.

Like a kid in a candy store, cognitive resources are constrained by having so many choices. If you want to find a compatible partner who holds the qualities you value, try going somewhere with a smaller selection!

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