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Quantity may determine quality when choosing romantic partners
The context in which humans meet potential mates has a hidden influence on who they decide to pursue. In particular, when people have a large number of potential dating partners to select among, they respond by paying attention to different types of characteristics – discarding attributes such as education, smoking status, and occupation in favor of physical characteristics such as height and weight.
A number of studies in recent years have looked at what happens to humans when faced with extensive choice – too many kinds of chocolate, or too many detergents to choose from at the grocery store. Under such circumstances, consumer psychologists believe that the brain may become “overwhelmed,” potentially leading to poorer quality choice or choice deferral. Psychological scientist Alison Lenton, of the University of Edinburgh, and economist Marco Francesconi, of the University of Essex, wanted to know if the same was true of mate choice, given that humans have been practicing this particular choice for millennia. “Is having too many mate options really like having too many jams?” they ask. The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
To find out how people respond to relatively limited versus extensive mate choice, Lenton and Francesconi analyzed data from 84 speed dating events, which is where people meet with a series of potential dates for three minutes each. Afterward, the men and women report their choices (a “yes” or “no” for each person). It should surprise no one that choosers generally preferred people who were taller, younger, and well-educated. Women also preferred partners who weren’t too skinny, and men preferred women who weren’t overweight. Beyond that, though, the attributes that speed daters paid attention to depended on how many opposite-sex speed daters attended the event.
At bigger speed dating events, with 24 or more dates, both male and female choosers were more likely to decide based on attributes that could be judged quickly, such as their dates’ height, and whether they were underweight, normal weight, or overweight. At smaller events, choosers were more likely to make decisions based on attributes that take longer to identify and evaluate, such as their dates’ level of education, their type of job, and whether or not the person smokes.
“Obviously, I think we look for different attributes in partners than what we look for in a chocolate, a jam or a 401(k) plan,” says Lenton. “But one of the points we’re trying to make in this article is it’s the same brain we’re carrying around. There are constraints on what our brains can do – they’re quite powerful, but they can’t pay attention to everything at once.” And if the brain is faced with abundant choice, even about who to go out with, it may make decisions based on what it can evaluate most quickly. As a result, this previously invisible aspect of the choice environment has the potential to determine one’s romantic fate.
The consumerists’ quandary. I’m surprised this phenomenon hasn’t been discussed more by game instructors. It would seem logical that the number of girls as well as the number of men in a pickup environment would have an effect on how we choose mates and how we ourselves are perceived as mates. How many times have you stood in front of a huge aisle displaying 62 varieties of vitamins and just said “fuck it” and grabbed the cheapest, or the nearest, brand? If “choice deferral” or choice constriction happens with vitamin brands, then it could conceivably happen with girl brands.
So what are the take-home points from this study? What should we men, always on the lookout for a quicker route to getting laid and loved, learn from the study’s conclusions?
- In groups that have a lot of men, (for example, clubs and bars on busy nights), women will evaluate your mate potential on “superficial” (i.e. readily discernible) qualities like height and looks.
- A corollary to number 1 is that in venues where there is a lot of male competition for the women to choose among, and you are average or below in superficial traits, you will not get many chances to run game on the girls.
- In groups of few people, (for example, book clubs or painting classes), women will evaluate your potential as a partner on more “meaningful” qualities that can only be discovered during the course of lengthier conversations.
- A corollary to number 3 is that women will be more likely to grant an average looking man an audition at an event that has few other men from which the women can choose. She will also want to know more about each man she joins in conversation.
If you imagine each woman has a tingle-o-meter that oscillates with varying strength to the proportion of male attractiveness traits present in a man she is talking with, and that also oscillates according to the number of other men in her visual field, then you can visualize how a typical woman will react to you in different environments. If you are great looking and tall, you will get a lot of insta-play from women where large numbers of other men are present. She will be choosing you almost entirely based on your easily perceived high value traits, and will likely be more forgiving of any shortfalls you may have in the less visually oriented suite of male attractiveness traits. So if you’re a broke, uneducated, Johnny Depp lookalike, you’ll want to make nightclubs your venue of choice, and you’ll want to close the deal sooner rather than later, before she has an inclination to dig deeper into your value as a man.
If you are not great looking or tall, then you’ll want to steer clear of venues where there will be a lot of men. You will do best in smaller groups with few men, let’s say bars on a weeknight, where the women will be open to learning more about you, and also likelier to overlook any physical shortcomings you may have. She will be choosing you based on a mixed package of easily perceived physical traits and less obvious high value male traits such as dominance, physical assuredness, humor, and charm/game. So if you have tight game but lack the looks to easily acquire auditions to demonstrate your game, you’ll want to focus on environments with few other men around, like day game or really any venue on a night besides Friday or Saturday night.
Since by definition most men are not in the top 10% of looks and height, it stands to reason that pickup instructors should not be teaching game to newbies in high energy environments like nightclubs. The best place to practice game is any place where a bunch of superficially high value men will not show up to distract the girl.
Some other conclusions we can draw from the study:
- This “choice abundance mentality” by women can be artificially triggered. If you have a lot of guy friends who are worse looking than you, then bring your posse to the local club. Faced with all those men to choose from, the women will naturally gravitate to you as the most superficially appealing man of the group.
- Addendum to the above: your friends can’t be *too* dorky, because then the women will tar you with the same dork brush.
- Also, if one of your less good looking friends has better game than you, and the environment you are in is sufficiently low key that he can run his game undistracted, then he may steal the girls’ attention from you. Good looks on a man are great, but good game is even better.
- If you are very good looking but a so-so conversationalist, you will want to stay away from things like book clubs, where the homelier men with sharp wits will absolutely crush you. I’ve seen it happen. Score one for the smooth talking Voltaires.
- If you are very good looking but have no game, suit up and hit da clubs on a busy night where women can instantly compare your looks to a ton of other men. Physical presence game is all you’ll need. Try to get used to one night stands.
- Homelier men should focus on gaming one or two girls in a night. They need more time to allow their heart light to shine. Theirs is a big stage with lots of props and a multitude of scenes to tell the story. Homelier men must be better at building connections with women, because a strong emotional connection will handily compensate for a weak physical magnetism.
- Good looking men should maximize the number of girls they hit on in a night. They don’t need a lot of time to attract attention. Theirs is a small stage featuring a one-act play and a very large audience all vying to get his autograph after the show. By maximizing the number of targets and compressing time spent with each target into a few minutes, they maximize their chance for a same night lay.
- If you have a sucky job and few ostentatious credentials to wave around, but your game is tight, you’ll want to hit on girls in large venues. The girls will be less likely to grill you on your educational and career background, and more likely to enjoy the spontaneous feelings you evoke in them. In other words, choice abundance means that girls are going to be too distracted to bother figuring out your life story. A confused girl is an easily gamed girl.
- If you have a great job, money, and conventional cred, but your game is weak, you’ll want to hit on girls on slow nights in smaller venues, or day game and insta-date them. Maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. A calm, focused girl is a future time oriented girl who will judge on substance more than flash. (Note: sluts excluded.)
- Where there are a lot of men, you can create the illusion of male scarcity (and thus increase your odds of successfully gaming a girl) by walking away from girls early in a conversation. Always end conversations first, seem needlessly distracted, and make it seem like you are a man who has options, even if technically in a bar with more men than women, you don’t.
- If you are looking for a wife or girlfriend, you may want to shift your base of operations to smaller venues or events where you will be less tempted by choice abundance to invest time gaming the flashiest chicks whose key attribute is how good to go they are.
Apropos the study, only go to speed dating events where the women rotate. You will seem in higher demand than you really are.