The 1970s television show The Dating Game is a classic study in determining how people select their mates. The audience laughed when eligible bachelorettes asked three male contestants to describe their “perfect date night” or name an animal that best reflects their personality. The winner was selected by the bachelorette based on the answers that were most favorable to her, and off they went on a grand-prize getaway.
Is this really the best way to choose a mate? What factors do people claim to look for in a mate and what qualities in a mate are most valuable?
John Edlund, assistant professor of psychology in Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Liberal Arts, knows a thing or two about what attracts people to one another and how we determine who we believe are our ideal mates. In fact, Edlund has been studying mate-value and mating preferences for several years.
“Although studies have long investigated similarities and differences in men’s and women’s mate preferences, my research has investigated whether mate value moderates participants’ design of mates,” says Edlund. “In other words, individuals who are perceived to be ‘good catches’ are more likely to end up with mates who are similarly ‘good catches.’ The likelihood of Brad Pitt ending up with Angelina Jolie makes more sense than Brad dating Rosanne Barr, for example. Theoretically, people end up with individuals with similarly meaningful characteristics. There are a lot of people who believe that opposites attract—and while that may be the case for the short-term, research suggests that this type of relationship just won’t last.”
Comparatively speaking, Edlund says that men are more concerned with finding a mate who is attractive, youthful and friendly, while women are more concerned with finding a mate with deep pockets who can pay the bills. Edlund’s studies also point out that important factors in determining whether a relationship is successful include similar family backgrounds and upbringing, like religion and socio-economic status, similar attractiveness levels, outgoingness and conscientiousness.
“In the end, it’s really your similarities that will help keep you together,” adds Edlund. “That’s one of the reasons why online dating and matching sites like e-Harmony have the potential for people to end up in successful relationships. They use psychology similar to what I’m researching and, in theory, are connecting people using these types of traits.”