Scientists Explain How We Choose Our Mates

“Reading” future partners is a human evolutionary trait

According to the results of a new behavioral study, conducted at the Indiana University (IU), men and women are very good at determining the interest a man has in a potential partner, but score extremely poor when it comes to judging the same intentions in a woman. In other words, women operate “covertly” when it comes to choosing their mates, whereas men make their interest widely-known, although they sometimes do this unconsciously. These conclusions were obtained following a speed dating type of experiment.

"The hardest-to-read women were being misperceived at a much higher rate than the hardest-to-read men. Those women were being flirtatious, but it turned out they weren't interested at all. Nobody could really read what these deceptive females were doing, including other women," says IU Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences doctoral student Skyler Place, the lead author of the new research. The investigator collaborated with Peter Todd, who is an IU cognitive science professor.

"So, if you walk into a room and there's 20 people you've never met before, being able to know which individuals might be available and which are clearly smitten by others can make you more efficient in finding your own romantic interest to pursue," Place adds in the paper published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

He says that people's ability to judge other individuals' romantic interests must have been triggered by an evolutionary urge, and that this trait may have come in handy in the old days, when society was not ordered and regulated as it is today. At the time, the decisions were made with regard to the group's opinion, which ensured that one of its members selected the right life partner.

Women, says Place, are usually more inclined to ask potential partners to talk about themselves during the first date, so that they can get a better understanding of whether the individual is fit for a long-term relationship or not. "In a speed dating environment, you would expect to see these effects dramatically, with the women trying to get the men to be more straightforward, while they themselves remain more coy. Though the pace is faster than a typical first date, the strategy remains the same," he concludes.

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