Friday, April 16, 2010

Quantity may determine quality when choosing romantic partners

The context in which humans meet potential mates has a hidden influence on who they decide to pursue. In particular, when people have a large number of potential dating partners to select among, they respond by paying attention to different types of characteristics – discarding attributes such as education, smoking status, and occupation in favor of physical characteristics such as height and weight.

A number of studies in recent years have looked at what happens to humans when faced with extensive choice – too many kinds of chocolate, or too many detergents to choose from at the grocery store. Under such circumstances, consumer psychologists believe that the brain may become "overwhelmed," potentially leading to poorer quality choice or choice deferral. Psychological scientist Alison Lenton, of the University of Edinburgh, and economist Marco Francesconi, of the University of Essex, wanted to know if the same was true of mate choice, given that humans have been practicing this particular choice for millennia. "Is having too many mate options really like having too many jams?" they ask. The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

To find out how people respond to relatively limited versus extensive mate choice, Lenton and Francesconi analyzed data from 84 speed dating events, which is where people meet with a series of potential dates for three minutes each. Afterward, the men and women report their choices (a "yes" or "no" for each person). It should surprise no one that choosers generally preferred people who were taller, younger, and well-educated. Women also preferred partners who weren't too skinny, and men preferred women who weren't overweight. Beyond that, though, the attributes that speed daters paid attention to depended on how many opposite-sex speed daters attended the event.

At bigger speed dating events, with 24 or more dates, both male and female choosers were more likely to decide based on attributes that could be judged quickly, such as their dates' height, and whether they were underweight, normal weight, or overweight. At smaller events, choosers were more likely to make decisions based on attributes that take longer to identify and evaluate, such as their dates' level of education, their type of job, and whether or not the person smokes.

"Obviously, I think we look for different attributes in partners than what we look for in a chocolate, a jam or a 401(k) plan," says Lenton. "But one of the points we're trying to make in this article is it's the same brain we're carrying around. There are constraints on what our brains can do - they're quite powerful, but they can't pay attention to everything at once." And if the brain is faced with abundant choice, even about who to go out with, it may make decisions based on what it can evaluate most quickly. As a result, this previously invisible aspect of the choice environment has the potential to determine one's romantic fate.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hooking up or dating: Who benefits?

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Women still want a relationship while men value independence, whether they’re dating or hooking up




As hooking up takes over from dating as a means of heterosexual interaction on university campuses, more women than men continue to prefer dating whereas more men than women rate hooking up above dating. Both genders however perceive similar benefits and risks to dating and hooking up. Carolyn Bradshaw from James Madison University in Virginia, US, and colleagues explored the reasons that motivate college men and women to hook up or to date, as well as the perceived relative benefits and costs of the two practices. Their findings are published online in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.

Typically, dating follows a predictable pattern whereby the man is active - he asks the woman to go out with him, organizes the date and at the end of it may initiate sexual activity; whereas the woman is reactive - she waits to be asked out on a date and accepts or rejects the man’s sexual overtures. They know each other or want to get to know one another and there is the prospect of a future relationship. In contrast, a hook up is a casual sexual encounter, which usually occurs between people who are strangers or brief acquaintances. For instance, two people meet at a party where they have been drinking; they flirt and engage in sexual behaviors from kissing to sexual intercourse, with no commitment to a future relationship.

Bradshaw and team exposed 150 female and 71 male college students from a southern, public American university to a variety of dating and/or hooking up situations, such as when there was potential for a relationship, when their partner had a great personality and when drinking was involved. They asked the students the extent to which they would prefer dating or hooking up in each situation. The participants were also asked to pick the top three benefits and top three risks associated with dating and hooking up from a checklist, as well as provide details of their dating and hooking up activities over the past two years.

Even though men initiated significantly more first dates than women, there was no gender difference in the number of first dates or number of hook-ups. For both men and women, the number of hook ups was nearly double the number of first dates.

Overall, both genders showed a preference for traditional dating over hooking up. However, of those students who strongly preferred traditional dating, there were significantly more women than men (41 percent versus 20 percent). Of those who showed a strong preference for hooking up, there were far fewer women than men (2 percent versus 17 percent). However, context mattered: when considering the possibility of a long-term relationship, both women and men preferred dating over hooking up; however, when the possibility of a relationship was not mentioned, men preferred hooking up and women preferred dating.

On the whole, men and women agreed on the benefits and risks of dating and hooking up. However, there were some notable differences:

• Women more than men seem to want a relationship. They fear, both in dating and hooking up, that they will become emotionally attached to a partner who is not interested in them.

• Men more than women seem to value independence. They fear that even in hooking up relationships, which are supposed to be free of commitments, a woman might seek to establish a relationship.


Reference



1. Bradshaw C, Kahn AS, Saville BK (2010). To hook up or date: which gender benefits? Sex Roles; DOI 10.1007/s11199-010-9765-7

Monday, April 5, 2010

Nonromantic Sexual Relationships

A University of Iowa study has found that one-third of sexual relationships in the Chicago area lack exclusivity. One in 10 men and women reported that both they and their partner had slept with other people.

Lovers in "friends with benefits" situations or those "hooking up" with a stranger or acquaintance proved much more likely to have multiple partners, according to the survey of 783 heterosexual adults.

Researchers are interested in the topic because concurrent partnerships speed up the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, said Anthony Paik, a sociologist in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and author of the study published in the latest issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

"The United States has seen a major shift toward nonromantic sexual partnerships -- people becoming sexually involved when they are just casually dating or not dating at all," Paik said. "A quarter of the respondents became sexually involved while casually dating and a fifth did so as friends or acquaintances."

Respondents, ranging in age from 18 to 60, were asked how many people they had been with during their most recent relationship. They also estimated how many partners their partner had during that time. Sexual involvement was defined as genital contact.

Overall, 17 percent of men and 5 percent of women acknowledged that they had been with someone else. Another group -- 17 percent of women and 8 percent of men -- said they'd been exclusive but their partner had not. Twelve percent of women and 10 percent of men said neither of them had been monogamous.

Being involved with a friend increased the likelihood of non-monogamy by 44 percent for women and 25 percent for men. Involvement with an acquaintance or stranger increased the odds by 30 percent for women and 43 percent for men.

The study also found that respondents who got along with each other's parents were less likely to have multiple sex partners. Paik said people are less likely to risk a relationship when they take family stakeholders into consideration.

Paik said the research does not lead to the conclusion that efforts should be made to revive dating.

"People can make their own choices, but we hope this information will be useful as they weigh the risks and rewards of nonromantic sexual relationships," he said. "We encourage people be aware of the potential for sexual concurrency and take appropriate precautions to avoid sexually transmitted infections."