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Daters' Mixed Motivations Debunked

Study Shows Mismatch Between What People Say They Want and Who They Actually Choose
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 4, 2007 -- New research on love (or at least dating) echoes what William Shakespeare wrote more than 400 years ago in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind."

Basically, the researchers found that men and women say they want someone like them.

But the reality of how men and women choose potential mates isn't quite that politically correct, according to Indiana University's Peter Todd, PhD, and colleagues.

Todd's team studied 21 women and 26 men in Germany who attended a speed-dating session, in which each man spent five minutes talking to each woman. After each brief meeting, the woman noted whether she wanted to meet the man again, and vice versa.

Before the speed dating began, Todd and colleagues asked the men and women to rate themselves and their ideal mate for traits including financial status, family commitment, and physical appearance.

The men and women, who ranged in age from 26 to 44, indicated that they were looking for someone who was their equal in those areas.

However, that went out the window when the men and women selected people they wanted to meet again. Or, as the researchers put it, "Stated preferences did not predict actual choices made during the speed dates."

"Men chose women based on their physical attractiveness, whereas women, who were generally much more discriminating than men, chose men whose overall desirability as a mate matched the women's self-perceived physical attractiveness," write Todd and colleagues.

Speed dating isn't likely to be the sole basis for choosing a mate. But it's handy for studying potential mate selection.

"Speed dating lets us look at a large number of mate choice decisions collected in a short amount of time," Todd states in a news release.

"It only captures the initial stage of the extended process involved in long-term mate choice. But that initial expression of interest is crucial for launching everything else," says Todd.

The study appears in this week's early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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