First impressions are everything when it comes to dating, study shows

DAVIS, Calif. — No pressure, but researchers from the University of California-Davis find first impressions matter big time in the dating world. Their study reveals that first impressions of both compatibility and popularity are very influential in shaping the people we choose to pursue as potential romantic partners.

While both popularity and compatibility in general have been studied in plenty of earlier romantic research projects, this study is one of the first of its kind because it accounts for how first impressions affect subsequent romantic outcomes. Generally, researchers discovered that first impressions have a tendency to linger around and influence whether people desire further contact with a potential romantic partner after a first meeting.

“Although we expected popularity to be an important factor in the study, we were amazed to find that a good first impression is not just a popularity contest, it’s also about compatibility, even when people are still getting to know each other,” says study co-author Alexander Baxter, a UC Davis doctoral student in psychology, in a university release. “In other words, although it helps to be popular when it comes to getting a second date, having a unique connection with a potential partner can be just as important.”

Do all types of relationships fit into this theory?

Study authors analyzed over 550 “speed-daters,” including some members of the LGBTQ community. All of the daters were asked to rate their romantic interest in the potential partners they had just met. The participant pool included people from the U.S. and Canada and featured both college students and people attending a comic book convention. In total, the group took part in over 6,600 speed dates during the experiment.

“Representation really matters in psychology research, and one of the strengths of our study is that we included a subsample of men who date men that attended an all-male speed-dating event,” Baxter explains. “This means that our findings generalize not only to male-female relationships, but also to male-male relationships too. We hope that future studies will consider other diverse types of relationships.”

After all of the speed dates, study authors surveyed each person over the following two to three months. The surveys assessed if participants had ended up dating any of the people they met during the experiment, and if or how their romantic feelings changed over time toward that individual.

The team employed a statistical model to gauge if those later romantic outcomes had been predicted by three factors known to affect how romantic first impressions form: selectivity, popularity, and compatibility. In simpler terms, researchers searched for patterns of initial desire recorded during the initial speed dates, and then determined if those factors predicted whether people later pursued a relationship with the potential partners that they had met.

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Popularity plays a big role in successful first impressions

Here’s a more specific breakdown of each first impression factor:

  • Selectivity — Daniel liked Rose because he liked everyone;
  • Popularity — Daniel liked Rose because everyone liked her; and
  • Compatibility — Daniel uniquely liked Rose, above and beyond his own flirty disposition and her general popularity.

The study indicates people were particularly likely to pursue a romantic relationship with those they perceived to be both highly compatible with themselves and popular. Selectivity, meanwhile, played a relatively small role. More romantically outgoing individuals were slightly more likely than less outgoing people to pursue their speed dating matches.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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