We all can explain our ideal partner. Possibly they are funny, attractive and curious. Or perhaps they are down-to-earth, smart and thoughtful. However do we in fact have unique insight into ourselves, or are we simply describing positive qualities that everybody likes?
Let’s take a closer look
New research study coming out of the University of California, Davis, suggests that individuals’s ideal partner preferences do not reflect any distinct personal insight. The paper, “Negligible Evidence That People Desire Partners Who Uniquely Fit Their Ideals,” was released last week in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“The people in our study could very easily list their top three attributes in an ideal partner,” noted Jehan Sparks, former UC Davis doctoral student and lead author of the study. “We wanted to see whether those top three attributes really mattered for the person who listed them. As it turns out, they didn’t.”
In the research study, more than 700 individuals nominated their top three qualities in a romantic partner– characteristics like funny, attractive or curious. Then they reported their romantic desire for a series of individuals they understood personally: Some were arranged date partners, others were romantic partners, and others were pals.
Participants experienced more romantic desire to the extent that these personal associates had the leading 3 attributes. If Vanessa noted funny, attractive and curious, she experienced more desire for partners who were amusing, appealing and curious.
“On the surface, this looks promising,” notes Paul Eastwick, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology and co-author.
“You say you want these three attributes, and you like the people who possess those attributes. But the story doesn’t end there.” — Professor Paul Eastwick, UC Davis
What would a complete stranger state?
The scientists included a twist: Each participant also thought about the level to which the exact same personal acquaintances had three qualities chosen by some other random individual in the research study. For instance, if Kris noted down-to-earth, smart and thoughtful as her own leading 3 attributes, Vanessa also experienced more desire for acquaintances who were down-to-earth, smart and thoughtful.
“So in the end, we want partners who have positive qualities,” said Sparks, “but the qualities you specifically list do not actually have special predictive power for you.” The authors take these findings to mean that people don’t have special insight into what they personally want in a partner.
Eastwick compared it to buying food at a dining establishment.“Why do we order off the menu for ourselves? Because it seems obvious that I will like what I get to pick. Our findings suggest that, in the romantic domain, you might as well let a random stranger order for you — you’re just as likely to end up liking what you get.”
The findings have ramifications for the method individuals approach online dating. Individuals frequently spend lots of hours browsing online dating profiles in the search of someone who particularly matches their preferences. Stimulates and associates’ research suggests that this effort might be misplaced.
“It’s really easy to spend time hunting around online for someone who seems to match your ideals,” notes Sparks. “But our research suggests an alternative approach: Don’t be too picky ahead of time about whether a partner matches your ideals on paper. Or, even better, let your friends pick your dates for you.”