Speed dating allows participants to assess a series of potential dating partners during a sequence of one-on-one, time-limited encounters. At the end of the whole session, attendees are asked to choose who they liked and with whom they would like to share their contact details with the potential of arranging a second date.
In this way, speed dating is rather like a job interview. Be successful at the interview stage, and you may get a tryout for the job. Obviously, then, it is important for those using speed dating to create a favourable impression of themselves during each brief time-limited interaction with their potential date. So how can speed daters improve their chances of being found attractive? We know that one strong predictor of attraction between people is the degree to which they are similar—known as the similarity-attraction effect.
However, while the similarity-attraction effect suggests that those who are similar are likely to be attracted, we also need to consider what types of similarity are most important in romantic liking. For example, is it similarity in personality, attitudes, or indeed more obvious external features such as age or dress code? Furthermore, there is a difference between what has been termed perceived similarity and actual similarity. In other words, whether we think we are similar to someone, or whether we are actually similar to them. Understanding the difference between perceived and actual similarity could make a difference in speed dating.
In their study, Natasha Tidwell and colleagues investigated the relationship between actual and perceived similarity and attraction, where real potential romantic partners met for the first time in a speed dating situation (Tidwell, Eastwick & Finkel, 2013). Study participants engaged in four-minute interactions with their speed-dating partners, following which they completed a questionnaire that included the following information.
- Actual self-characteristics: the participants rated how much the following attributes described themselves, including physically attractive, sexy/hot, good career prospects, ambitious/driven, fun/exciting, funny, responsive, dependable/trustworthy, friendly/nice, charismatic, confident, assertive, smart, and intellectually sharp.
- Perceived partner characteristics: how much each date participants interacted with possessed each trait listed above.
- Personality: measuring openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
- Sociosexuality: “Sex without love is OK”; “I have to be closely attached to someone.”
- Traditionalism: “I want a family”; “I go to religious services.”
- Political conservatism: “I endorse conservative/liberal political ideology.” “I want my partner to do this also.”
- Other factors: such as academic major, interests, religion, and home locality.
- Perceived similarity: “We have a lot in common.”
- Romantic liking: assessed by measuring how much participants liked their speed dating partner on a nine-point scale. “I liked my partner”; “I was sexually attracted to my partner.”
Actual similarity was determined by finding the difference in scores on the questionnaire between the participants’ ratings and their speed dating partners’ ratings on all the measures. In other words, the difference between how they rated themselves and how their partner rated them. Perceived similarity was computed by finding the difference between the participants’ ratings of their own assessment on a particular measure and their assessment of their partner on the various measures. In other words, the difference between how they rated themselves and how they rated their partner. Finally, general perceived similarity was calculated by taking a general judgment of participants’ mutual romantic liking assessments.
The researchers found that actual similarity for the self-characteristics of “dependable” and “friendly/nice” could predict romantic liking. However, what was perplexing was that the association was in the opposite direction to what might be expected—that is, dissimilarity in these characteristics seemed to predict attraction. They did find that actual similarity in the characteristics of sociosexuality, extraversion, religion, and political conservatism was associated with romantic liking. Extraversion as a personality trait is generally easy to identify during short interactions with others, which is perhaps why actual similarity in extraversion predicts attraction.
For perceived similarity, the researchers found that perceiving your partner as being similar to you in being sexy, having good career prospects, having ambition, being dependable, being confident, being assertive, and being smart and intellectually sharp was positively associated with liking and being attracted to your dating partner. In other words, when participants thought their speed dating partner was like them on these characteristics, they tended to like them more. The study did not measure perceived partner characteristics for any of the other traits such as sociosexuality and religion.
General perceived similarity
Finally, the researchers found a strong relationship between general perceived similarity (generally how similar participants felt to one another) and romantic liking. That is, those who perceived themselves as being similar to their romantic partner also reported greater liking for them.
One reason to explain the difference between actual and perceived similarity in predicting romantic liking is that people often use information they know about themselves and use this to make inferences about traits in other people—in this case, their speed dating partners.
It should be noted that this study employed participants aged between 18 and 22, and the researchers question whether the findings may have varied if a different age range had been employed. Furthermore, it is possible that the findings might also have varied had different measures of similarity been used.
However, the takeaway message from this research is that if you want to increase your chances of success in speed dating, then attempting to subtly convince your speed dating partner that you are similar to them may be a good strategy to employ.