We’re Pretty Terrible At Rejecting Each Other

This may surprise you, but most people don’t really like intentionally being mean to each other. Unfortunately, those, that tendency can have some bad consequences.

For example, a study published in Psychological Science has found that by not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings, we can end up stringing along potential romantic partners.

In one test, researchers had 132 participants create dating profiles. Each participant then selected one other profile in which they were interested. Researchers then showed their participants a picture of the person whose profile had been selected: an ugly, ugly picture. Half of the participants were told that their potential Quasimodo was available for a date sometime in the future, but only 16% of the participants wanted to exchange numbers. The other half, though, were told that their ugly valentine was right outside the lab, available for a date right then, and the number of participants willing to exchange digits jumped to 37%. The whole experiment was an elaborate ruse, of course—researchers aren’t really being cruel to unattractive people for experiments. However, this did demonstrate that people are twice as willing to go on a date with someone unattractive if they’re nearby, in order to spare their feelings.

Researchers repeated the test, but this time they didn’t use the unattractive photo. Instead, they offered each participant a match that had some kind of deal-breaker or bad habit (as determined using a prior questionnaire). For example, the match might have smoked, or had diametrically opposed political beliefs. This time, 46% were willing to go on a date if they thought the person wasn’t waiting outside the lab, while an amazing 74% were ready to date their deal-breaker right then. In a post-experiment survey, the participants said that they didn’t want to hurt their potential date’s feelings.

Of course, this tendency isn’t great. If you know you can’t get along with someone who is a vegetarian, for example, why make it harder down the road?


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