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October 03, 2008


I think this study glosses over an important issue: your earning ability is partly reflected in your appearance and women are far more aware of this than men. In another study it was found that women had a harder time distinguishing between a genuinely good looking man and an average man wearing nice clothing than men did with women.

Doesn't the high correlation between attractiveness and earning make untangling this a bit harder?

Also ... isn't judging a date based on "earning prospects" kind of "shallow" as well? It seems more like two shallow criteria than a shallow and a not-shallow one (something like intelligence or kindness?).

In that situation, you have excellent information about how people look. About their earning prospects, not so much.

I agree with Crush. Actually, the whole 'speed-dating' thing seems to invite shallow evaluations, so I'd say the study was vastly biased towards that outcome.

Why is intelligence not a shallow criterion? Intelligence and good looks are about at par in how much of them is determined by the environment versus genes, so they are about as fair.

I was thinking of traits that are traditionally considered shallow vs. those that aren't. You can debate that intelligence is a shallow criterion as well, but my point was more that choosing a mate based on earnings potential is, by traditional standards, just as shallow as doing so based on physical attractiveness. Maybe more so!

Also, "shallow" in this context means something like "superficial" ... I'm not sure environment vs. genetics has much to do with how superficial a given trait is. I think it's more about how we understand that trait to be apprehended and appreciated: at a glance or developing over time. Which, as Thom Blake pointed out, is not really allowed by speed dating; you don't really get a chance to evaluate someone's ethics, judgment, humor, etc.

What defines a shallow or superficial trait? Why is appearance considered superficial? It affects the other person in the relationship to a great degree, in particular when it comes to sexual attraction.

The entire speed dating setup seems to skew toward privileging appearance over socioeconomic status by making displays of that status far more difficult. Wealth in courtship and dating situations can be used to control the context and environment. Women on a real date with say a taxi driver as opposed to a stockbroker can expect a significantly difference. The taxi driver might take a girl for a Pizza, the Wall Street guy for lobster. The taxi driver picks her up in a Toyota, the Wall street guy in a Lexus. Rich guy pays for everything on the date, poor guy suggests going dutch. On a real date Rich guy can distinguish himself in a myriad of ways.

In speed dating you eliminate most of the ways that wealth can be used to shape impressions and experiences, then invite direct comparisons based on the amount of chemistry in a couple minutes of conversation.

The whole setup blatantly favors charm and looks over bank balance

Sexual attraction is always shallow. It's a gene's idea of a good mate. If we gene-overriding humans keep it, that's because we've decided the fun is self-justifying. Given that, I personally feel free to optimize for all preference factors, including shallow ones.

Looks (health). Money (security). Intelligence (rationality). Humor (fun). That's all that matters. Their order is the only variable.

Their order/weighting is what varies. For some, looks is an absolute prerequisite. If you ain't got it, forget about it. Humor or intelligence is often second (though you really can't be much fun if you're short in the neural department. Most people don't have that much money for it to play a significant part, but if you got heaps, no doubt you'll have no trouble attracting a large part of humanity who are willing to forget about your other shortcomings - ugly, nasty, rich idiots can be surprisingly popular.

Like attracts like. Money attracts the rest.

Its not true that heaps of money will attract a large part of humanity. It will attract a small portion that views wealth as the most important factor in a mate. However, studies have found that most women only consider wealth a factor when it is very low. Once you get to a certain comfort threshold, the wealth doesn't add much to the attractiveness of a mate.

If not a large part, large enough for mate finding to be reliable, quick, and painless. You go to a bar and you observe.

Though if you go to a bar filled with millionaires, money is no asset. Don't know if you can make a splash by being a billionaire though.

Physical appearance is a very reliable factor to base mating decision on. Perhaps the most reliable. It's unfakeable*. All other factors you can fake or lie about to an extent. Good looks correlate with numerous positive life-outcomes.

Are there studies on whether intelligent people look intelligent and vv? Personal experience informs me that mentally challenged people (and criminals) don't appear to be the smartest and good mental performers are more symmetrical, or at least they look very normal, and some of the best have that hard-to-define look about their eyes that tells you instantly, and rather reliably, there's a high powered engine behind those photon-ports.

I suggest a comparison of faces of violent criminals and folks at bleeding edge high tech companies: Goon or genius?

*Tweaks are tweaks.

Datebit, take a look at this...


Datebit, take a look at this:


At jamie, there are a lot of visual hints that made that test easy. Unfortunately the photos didn't really allow you to judge based on the people's eyes. I'd be interested in seeing a controlled study to see if people could better guess the IQ of another person after seeing their eyes (in person).

I have to agree with Jay: in speed dating the most reliable data you have on your date is your observations of what he looks like.

On the other hand - you have no reliable means of judging what he earns.

could you please attempt to represent the study in your post instead of spewing blather in the opening line? what, exactly, do you mean, "women think they are different but they are not"? the study didn't ask the participants to rate their preferences for looks and earnings relative to how they thought the opposite sex would rate the importance of those attributes; it simply asked them to rate their preferences, period. and both sexes grossly underestimated the importance of looks relative to earnings.

funny how no one has pointed out that in the real trials, men actually placed a slightly higher emphasis on potential partners' income than women did. but no one here seems to be keen to highlight a blow to the "gold digger" myth.

"could you please attempt to represent the study in your post instead of spewing blather in the opening line?"

Any particular reason for the bad manners? Even if you disagree with the conclusions that Robin draws from the study (as do I), I don't understand the purpose of your rude interrogative attitude.

I have always thought that posting on someones blog is like an after dinner chat at their house. Courtesy matters.

Bill Gardner is right. How are the speed dating participants being informed of each others' earnings?

I suspect curious was implying that not only did Robin get it wrong, but that he wasn't even trying.


I think its pretty clear that women thought they placed less emphasis on looks than they actually did. However, I agree with the others in that this result could partially be due to the speed-dating process.

I'm not familiar enough with statistics to say if men's claims were equally inaccurate (can anyone read the study and tell us?), but most studies I've seen indicate that women's claimed preferences and demonstrated preferences diverge more than men's.

@Jay: the opening line is a smug, dismissive smack at women for which i can find no basis in the paper presented. (i do hope someone will thoroughly upbraid me if i am missing something.) women and men were asked to describe their own preferences, and then those preferences were measured. nowhere in this paper is there any indication that were women asked to give their expectations of what they thought men wanted (or vice versa), so there is no grounds for claiming that members of one sex "think they are different" from the other.

@Grant: i am not disputing that women (and men) thought looks were less important relative to earnings than turned out to be the case. that is clear from the data. Robin could have very reasonably said, "what women [and/or men] think they want is different from what they actually want." and if the stats show that women misjudge their own preferences by more than men do, then there is no problem saying so. but that is not the statement presented here. instead, he states that "women think they are different [presumably from men, because men are the norm/standard for everything, right?] but they are not," when the data that follow say nothing about that. women were not asked what they think men want, so there is no information here about whether they would attribute to men preferences that were similar to or different from their own.

even if one wants to argue that it's fair to say women think they're different because their stated preferences differed from men's, it still makes no sense to single out one sex. he could use the same logic and data to snipe that "men think they're different, but they're not." in which case, why not skip the sniping altogether and simply state that men and women both think they are different from each other (but they are not)?

[apologies to all for comment length.]

(out of 777 total)

I think you have to be rather un-shallow to go into hard sciences; you really have to care about non-superficial things. Fashion is nothing but shallow and superficial and women seem to fall for that.

The genders equally shallow? Or do we have a clear winner in the most-shallow-gender contest?

Also interesting to note Nobel prizes per country/IQ

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

It's necessary, and inevitable, that we have the full spectrum of shallow to deep matters in culture. However that is distributed among the sexes or across the Earth is of no consequence; discuissing which sex or population is more interested in deeper or shallower matters doesn't get you anywhere. We know the facts and we can do nothing about them.

Typo in post name. Equally has 2 ls, not 3.


Imprecise flippancy != dishonesty

And the rest of Mr. Hanson's description is pretty fair. Why bother criticizing tone when there's substance to talk about?

But yes, I'd be interested in some data on how people choose in circumstances where there's more opportunity for the "deeper" traits to be revealed. Anyone know where to find this?

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