Men and women are greatly influenced not only by what their friends think of their potential fling or relationship partner, but also by the opinion of complete strangers, a new study says.
"Humans don't exist in a vacuum. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we have evolved mechanisms that let us take advantage of the additional social information in our environment," said Skyler Place, a researcher in Indiana University (IU) Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
Place led the study along with Peter M Todd, professor in IU's Cognitive Science Program. "We might think that searching for mates is a process best done individually, that we can best gather by ourselves," Place said. But humans, like many other animals, also pay attention to the preferences of others, to make for a more efficient search process. Who others like might also be a good choice for ourselves."
Place's study is unique in that it exposed study participants to real mate choice scenarios via video of speed dating couplings. For the current study, 40 men and 40 women each watched video of eight speed dating interactions.
Speed dating involves sessions in which men and women have numerous "mini dates", each date lasting about three minutes.
After every date, the men and women checked a box on a card noting whether they would like to see the other person again. Place and Todd describe such speed-dating events as a realistic microcosm of mate choice behaviour.
The participants were IU students and the speed-dating was conducted in Germany. The students were asked to predict whether they thought the dates were successful as part of the study, said an IU release.
The researchers then looked at how the participants own desires to become romantically involved with the individuals going speed dating changed based on what the participants thought happened on the speed dates.
The men's interest in the women generally increased after watching the videos but it increased significantly more if their male peer in the video appeared to be interested in the women and if the men were considered as attractive or more so than the study participant.
With the female study participants, their interest in the men in the video increased if their peers in the video appeared interested; but unlike their male counterparts, their interest in the men decreased if the women in the video appeared uninterested.