The social scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have watched hundreds of videos of single people as they participate in a curious, but not unpopular, trend known as speed dating.Two participants spill their souls to each other for a set time, say four minutes, and try to decide whether they might have a future together.Yet, this is clearly not what drives the actions of everyone looking for love.
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Men's seemingly superficial preference for beauty was seen as a proxy for health.
Symmetry, skin tone and a favourable waist-to-hip ratio could reasonably point to a woman who would not only survive childbirth, but also pass on lots of healthy genes.
Dan has just transferred to Northwestern and his date, 'Danielle,' asked if he was enjoying the social life at his new university (for those of you who don't speak fluent baseball, a translation of this exchange can be found after the conversation): Dan may not be the slickest of operators, but by taking the chance to pay Danielle a compliment he is showing signals that could mean the start of successful relationship, say Finkel and Eastwick.
"Showing unique liking to someone is an effective way to get them to like you," says Eastwick.
The fast-paced format of speed dating could be exhilarating, daunting or perhaps even dorky for participants and observers alike.
Nevertheless, the researchers say that it could help to reveal some of the mysteries behind that uniquely human emotion — love.
From a purely biological standpoint, the success of a partnership hinges mainly on one thing, reproduction.
But for humans, who give birth to exceptionally weak, awkward and totally dependent babies, strong pair bonding and the sharing of parental duties can play an important part in the success of their offspring.
When the time is up, they move on to a new partner, sometimes talking to a dozen or more people in a night.
Finkel and Eastwick, who often share play-by-play accounts of the videos they review, have seen enough exchanges to know when one dater, whom we'll call Dan, might blow it.
Indeed, their research, including a paper published today, has already started to turn up some surprises.