Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

What makes women less picky when dating?

Posted in news by jenapincott on June 16, 2009

78366393 On a speed date, men usually rotate around the room while women demurely receive them. Each guy gets to chat with a woman for a few minutes, a timer goes off, and he gets up and moves on to the next seated damsel. At the end of the night, every participant fills out a card that indicates who they’d like to see again. Study after study has found that women are pickier than men.

Women’s choosiness has been long attributed to evolutionary theory. The gist of it is that women are pickier than men because we’re limited in the number of children we can produce. Women invest more in each child than men do, and they take on the burden of pregnancy and (at least traditionally) child rearing. With so much at stake in each pregnancy, and with the possibility (at least before birth control) that each mate could impregnate her, it makes sense that women are choosier when dating.

So what makes women less picky?

A speed-dating study to be published this month offers some insight.

Psychologists Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick at Northwestern University decided to shake things up a bit by making women rotate for a few sessions while men remained stationary. And that, according to duo, made all the difference. He found that, regardless of gender, people who were required to approach a date were less picky than people who were seated. This was extraordinary. For the first time in a dating experiment, women appeared to be no choosier than men.

Some readers have suggested that the study topples evolutionary theory. Women are not actually choosier than men, they say; we just have a long-standing cultural tradition for men to hit on women and women to choose whether or not to be receptive. The way to make women less picky is to make them initiators. From a psychological perspective, whoever makes the first move has more invested in a positive outcome. If it were more culturally acceptable for women to make the first move, they say, women would be less selective.

I agree that investing effort in making a person like you will make you more receptive to that person. You’ve initiated the contact, so subconsciously you’re rooting for rapport. But I disagree that this speed-dating study poses any real threat to evolutionary theory. And I offer an additional interpretation on why women on speed-dates are so much less selective when they are the approachers rather than the receivers: female rivalry (and inflated mate value).

People are attracted to those who attract others. I describe in BLONDES a few studies that found that women find a man more attractive when he’s in the company of a good-looking woman, or when he makes other women smile. This increases his so-called mate value (another tenet of sexual selection). When shown alone or paired with a woman who appears uninterested in him, the man receives lower attractiveness ratings.

I propose that women are more receptive when they are the “approachers” because they’re more actively competing with the other women in the room. By circulating around the room they could see other women approaching the men they recently met. The guys seemed more attractive because so many other women appeared interested in them. While men who approach a new women every four minutes may well appear desperate, men who are approached by other women appear desired.

But how well do the men do on a second date all alone with a woman — no other fawning females? That, I think, is the real test.

8 Responses

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  1. […] Pincott, author of Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?, looks at a new speed-dating study which challenges some traditional assumptions about gender […]

  2. Top Posts « WordPress.com said, on June 16, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    […] What makes women less picky when dating? On a speed date, men usually rotate around the room while women demurely receive them. Each guy gets to chat with a […] […]

  3. […] *Are Girls Really Less Picky?  — You may have heard about the recent speed dating study that suggests women are less picky when it comes to selecting mates than previously thought.  In this post, author Jena Pincott discusses the “other side of the story” about this study, and shows why single men will probably have to keep pushing each other out of the way to grab Ms. Right’s attention. […]

  4. […] given that women also approach men, what pick-up lines should women […]

  5. Martian Bachelor said, on September 1, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    > While men who approach a new women every four minutes may well appear
    > desperate, men who are approached by other women appear desired.

    An astute and simple observation fully in accord with “mate poaching” (by women) theory, which has some fairly substantive data backing it up (at least as such things go) and is what ev-psych would predict.

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