When searching for a mate online, singles are more likely to initiate contact with other online singles who are more attractive than themselves. When the market clears, so to speak, individuals in couples tend to be very similar to each other in terms of attractiveness. While there are a variety of theories as to why this happens, the HotorNot.com paper we talked about on Monday tests two possible theories and finds that at this “associative mating” outcome is driven by market forces.
So you think you are hot, in fact you think you are a nine out of ten in terms of “hotness,” and you are looking for a mate. You know that when the market clears the nines end up with nines, the eights end up with eights, et cetera—so you start out on your search looking for another nine. After a while, and repeated rejection, you find a mate. But they are not a nine; objectively your mate is more like a six. So here is the question, do you update your own personal information and decide that, in reality, you are a six? Or do you maintain your personal assessment of your own hotness by perceiving your mate to be a nine as well?
The market clearing outcome predicts that the nines will mate with other nines. Once the market for nines closes, the eights, who are forced to abandon the idea that they will find a nine, end up with the eights. This carries on down the line until eventually everyone finds that they are paired with another person who at the same level of hotness as themselves. So the market clears and we have the associative mating outcome we observe when we look at married couples.
There is another possibility though. It could be that the person, who thinks they are nine when objectively they are only a six, finds other sixes more attractive than someone who is objectively a nine, for example. This is a form of cognitive dissonance; when presented with new information the individual maintains their own biased self-assessment (in this case believing that they are a nine) by perceiving their mate to be more attractive than they are objectively.
The paper we are discussing uses a “Rate-Me” data set collected over a ten-day period from the website HotorNot.com. The Web site asks members to rate other member’s pictures on a scale of one to ten (where ten is “Hot” and one is “Not”). The data set contains 447,082 unique observations, where each observation is a rating by 5,457 individual members (79.1% male and 20.9% female). On average, each member rated 82 pictures over the 10-day period.
The results are straightforward. We may believe that beauty in the eye of the beholder, but the “Rate Me” data set supports the view that there is a universal standard of beauty. Men give higher ratings on average than women, but other than that there is very little variation in the ratings given to pictures of individuals who were brave enough to put their photos on the site. The idea that individuals maintain their own biased self-assessment by finding those just like them more attractive is dismissed. Men and woman who have an average rating of six, for example, are just as likely to be given “six” by someone is a six as they are someone who is a nine.
Appearance is important on the HotorNot Web site, in fact it is the only thing that matters, but in real life our mate choice is determined by a variety of qualities we see in other people. The authors of this paper conducted a small speed-dating trial which was designed to determine how important attractiveness is in a potential mate compared with other attributes. They find that the more attractive a person is the more important it is to them that they find an attractive mate. Other, less attractive, participants cared more about other non-attractiveness-related attributes, like sense of humor.
So, maybe when people write in their dating profiles “I’m not willing to settle, and neither should you” maybe they are not holding out for the nine. Maybe they are just waiting for the six who makes them smile.
**Lee, Leonard, George Loewenstein, Dan Ariely, James Hong and Jim Young (2008).“If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not? Physical Attractiveness Evaluations and Dating Preferences as a Function of Own Attractiveness.” Psychological Science Vol. 19 (7): pp 669-677.