Dating in the dark psychology
Thinking carefully about our dream date, and about our own personality, and allowing an algorithm to compute a match, may be an intriguing exercise.But as Eli Finkel at Northwestern University and colleagues have shown, it isn’t that helpful. In January, I launched a new dating site called 21Pictures which tries to use insights from psychology to create a more intuitive experience, where daters can make the most of their hard-wired social intelligence when choosing a partner.
Although 21Pictures is a fully functional dating site, it is also a social experiment, since it offers various new approaches that haven’t really been tried before.Most dating websites are engines of algorithmic-powered rationality. ); to fill out various personality and psychometric profiles; and generally to ruminate a great deal about your path to a fulfilling relationship.For example, they require you to describe yourself in words (your characteristics and interests, loves and hates); to sum up the attributes of the sort of person you’d like to be with (fun-loving? The psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West (and, more recently, Daniel Kahneman in his book ) call this kind of approach to problem-solving “system 2”.He’s discovered, for instance, that a messy desk does not necessarily denote a messy mind, or even a creative one: variety of reading material is more telling than quantity.The point of our social experiment on 21Pictures is to prime people’s dating instincts and encourage them to go with their hunches on just these kinds of cues.Walk into a room full of people and it won’t take you long to pick out those who appeal to you, based on the colour of their shirt, the style of their shoes, how they speak, or the countless other indicators that work beneath our conscious awareness. Try deliberating your way through all those social signals and weighing them up based on their individual merits and you’ll end up making some strange choices, or going home single.
Curious, then, that this is exactly what many dating sites compel us to do.
So a person’s profile might feature a shot of their bookcase, say, or their favourite coffee shop, their pet, some photos from their travels, a poster of a favourite film, and so on.
The effect is to evoke a sense of someone, rather than an algorithmic representation of them.
In this age of rationality and endless data, intuition is often looked upon as an inferior means of problem-solving. I do not know that I am,” remarked Albert Einstein before his theory of relativity was tested and confirmed as the basis of a new way of looking at the world.
Yet in many situations, even in the hard sciences, it is the most useful means of all. The value of intuition is underplayed in many areas of life, nowhere less so than in online dating.
Each student was photographed soon after they arrived.