Searching for someone who exactly matches your ideals may be a waste of time.
People desire positive traits in a partner, but it probably does not matter exactly which ones they get, research reveals.
The study found that when selecting a partner, people tend to ignore their own top three traits and are equally happy with someone who has a different set of positive traits.
For example, people say they want intelligence and kindness, but are just as happy with a sense of humour and ambition.
Dr Jehan Sparks, the study’s first author, said:
“The people in our study could very easily list their top three attributes in an ideal partner.
We wanted to see whether those top three attributes really mattered for the person who listed them.
As it turns out, they didn’t.”
For the research, over 700 people were asked to list their ideal traits in a partner.
These traits were then compared to people they actually knew and with how attractive they were.
The results showed that people did prefer others who had the traits they had listed as most attractive.
So far, so predictable.
Professor Paul Eastwick, study co-author, said:
“On the surface, this looks promising.
You say you want these three attributes, and you like the people who possess those attributes.
But the story doesn’t end there.”
However, people were equally attracted to other people who had different positive traits.
Dr Sparks explained:
“So in the end, we want partners who have positive qualities, but the qualities you specifically list do not actually have special predictive power for you.”
Professor Eastwick said:
“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.”
Searching for someone who exactly matches your ideals may be a waste of time, says Dr Sparks:
“It’s really easy to spend time hunting around online for someone who seems to match your ideals.
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.”
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Sparks et al., 2020).
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.