Speed dating, by comparison, offers the opportunity to chat up many eligible singles in rapid succession. Even if meet-and-greet matching events might seem like the most efficient way to comb through many options at once, a wealth of data reveals that the context in which we make a choice weighs heavily on the outcome. They note that using attributes such as weight and height to choose a partner is similar to trying to predict the taste of a food based on its fiber content and calories. Annual income and body mass index, after all, cannot give you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Becoming aware of that malleability in our taste, and gaining control over our decision-making strategies in response, is known as ecological rationality. In a study, for example, Raymond Fisman of Columbia University and his colleagues showed that when participants in a speed-dating event were asked what they seek in a potential partner, their answers did not match what they ended up finding attractive during the event.
They note that using attributes such as weight and height to choose a partner is similar to trying to predict the taste of a food based on its fiber content and calories. It is equally important when choosing between jams at the grocery store and partners to date; the only difference is the stakes. Know Your Environment One problem with both speed dating and online dating may arise from how we hunt for the things we want. In both conditions, men and women mentioned more experiential traits—nearly three times more for dating partners and almost five times more for spouses. Knowing how your environment influences your mind-set, a quality known as ecological rationality, can help you make the choices that are best for you. A similar argument could be made for speed dating, in which the conversation can resemble an interview more than a fun experience. They make split-second decisions on matters of the heart, creating a pool of information on one of the more ineffable yet vital questions of our time—how we select our mates. The concept of rapid-fire dating has gained tremendous popularity, spreading to cities all over the world. Even if meet-and-greet matching events might seem like the most efficient way to comb through many options at once, a wealth of data reveals that the context in which we make a choice weighs heavily on the outcome. Prior research by Lenton and Francesconi provides some insight into why people might struggle with speed dating. What we select depends on what else is being offered. Speed dating, by comparison, offers the opportunity to chat up many eligible singles in rapid succession. Annual income and body mass index, after all, cannot give you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. In an upcoming book, Lenton, Fasolo and their colleagues summarize the key message of recent research: Too Much of a Good Thing? In a study, for example, Raymond Fisman of Columbia University and his colleagues showed that when participants in a speed-dating event were asked what they seek in a potential partner, their answers did not match what they ended up finding attractive during the event. Online dating, too, has its drawbacks, requiring hours to sift through profiles and craft careful introductory e-mails before arranging to meet in person. During a series of mini dates, each spanning no more than a couple of minutes, participants in a speed-dating event evaluate a succession of eligible singles. Some years ago I caved to my curiosity and tried it out myself. One speed-dating company in New York City, for example, holds a gathering almost every day. Participants presented with a broad array of potential partners more closely aligned with their anticipated ideal did not experience greater emotional satisfaction than when presented with fewer options. Speed-dating events can promote a particular decision-making style that might not always work in our favor. For example, in those events with a relatively large number of participants, the researchers discovered that people attend predominantly to easily accessible features, such as age, height, physical attractiveness, and so forth, rather than clues that are harder to observe, for example, occupation and educational achievement. They found that when the number of participants in a speed-dating event increases, people lean more heavily on innate guidelines, known as heuristics, in their decision making. These rules of thumb are evolutionarily adaptive, however, and not necessarily a bad thing. Independent evaluators then rated the characteristics as either searchable or experiential.
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