No Rose-Colored Dating Glasses

We might see ourselves with rose-colored glasses, but apparently we see our dates clearly:

When less attractive people accept less attractive dates, do they persuade themselves that the people they choose to date are more physically attractive than others perceive them to be?  Our analysis of data from the popular Web site http://HOTorNOT.com suggests that this is not the case: Less attractive people do not delude themselves into thinking that their dates are more physically attractive than others perceive them to be.

Added: Anna points us to a study showing distorted sight:

Intimates in satisfying marriages perceive more virtue in their partners than their friends or their partners themselves perceive. … In contrast, intimates in less satisfying marriages perceive less virtue in their partners than their friends or their partners themselves perceive.

So perhaps we see accurately on average, but some are biased up while others are biased down.  And perhaps we see more clearly while dating than after we’ve been married for a while. 

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  • Stuart Armstrong

    Since less attractive people generally accept less attractive dates, and we see them clearly, does this not mean that we secretly know our own level of attractiveness?

  • Mikko

    Personally, I seem to perceive noticeable visual variance in the attractiveness of my girlfriend even during single day. For instance, she seems very attractive to me during and after sex, while I seem to notice certain non-attractive features of her face when we argue. Perhaps our hormone levels bias our perception of attractiveness.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    That link doesn’t work for me; try this one:

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/120839947/abstract

    It’s not on Lee’s home page yet:

    http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/cbs-directory/detail/5845231/Lee

  • Jay Thomas

    For me, when thinking about the attractiveness of women there are really two scales operating simultaneously. One the one hand I have a sense of their ‘consensus attractiveness’ and on the other that of my own personal attraction to the person. The two vary wildly at times. When I think about my past girlfriends they have occupied varying levels of attractiveness on both scales. The woman who I am confident had the highest level of consensus attractiveness (She would score the highest on a ranking website like hotornot) was NOT the woman I was personally the most physically attracted to. It seems to me that in the dating market the closer your preferences match those of the market average the more competitive you will find it to be. Speaking personally, some of the feminine physical characteristics the market puts a premium on (a high degree of slimness) are not particularly important to me, while others (blonde hair, tallness, long legs) are actually negatively correlated with how physically attracted I am to the person in question.

    What would be involved in seeing my girlfriend ‘clearly?’ Throwing my personal yardsticks out of the window and going only by social standards?

  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    tallness, long legs

    Well, there’s another distinction you need to make here, the distinction between “model beauty” and “sexual beauty”. Models tend to be incredibly thin and tall, but tallness and long legs are probably not actually valued all that much in the dating market. No man wants to date a woman taller than him (all else being equal, “no” meaning “mostly no”, etc. etc.). Tallness in women is like shortness in men. Model beauty probably has more to do with status and esteem than sexual beauty (to the extent that they don’t intersect, which they largely do).

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    does this not mean that we secretly know our own level of attractiveness?

    No. The motivation doesn’t need to be realistic as long as it produces an effective behavior. We likely have a preference for dating those people we believe are slightly less attractive than ourselves, with the result being that we end up dating those equal to us.

  • http://sapereaudere.blogspot.com Anibal

    We don´t know exactly the explicit mechanisms that determine how we see ourselves. But probably is something that evolve to be applied in social settings, so many biases exist to appear in front of others better than we are.

    But if we see less attractive partners as more attractive, we are fighting against us, deluding an important machinery which evolve to make an optimal biological judgment in order to pass good genes on the next generation. Maybe we cannot get the best availble partner, but self-delusion in the process of mate choice is a compromise too heavy to carry on.

  • Doug S.

    What I find attractive in women that I interact with has only a partial overlap with what I find attractive in photographs or videos of women.

    As usual, TV Tropes is familiar with the phenomenon.

  • Lara Foster

    “Attractiveness” has many features. As Doug has pointed out, photography and film can only capture some features, and since we have been trained by media and peers to judge these photographic features, we can probably guess fairly well where a consensus view will fall for them. It is harder to judge photographs of yourself and people you know very well, because you bring in additional information into the mental calculation. It would be more interesting to know if people continued to rate partners of long duration with whom they were pleased with consensus attraction scores.

    I personally have a fairly low threshold for determining if a man is ‘attractive enough’ to meet based on a photograph. The rest depends on other interactions and information. And if I meet that person, my model of attraction will be updated on the many factors that could not be captured in a photograph. I have not noticed much (if any) correlation between my attraction to a photograph and my attraction to a real person in person.

  • HH

    While “attractiveness” is a fairly vague term, I’m pretty sure we’ve evolved to be attracted to markers of health and good genes. Tastes obviously vary, as does the value we place on looks relative to other qualities. But given that attractiveness is correlated with good genes and also highly visible, are these findings really surprising at all? What would be the evolutionary benefit in deluding oneself in this particular regard? This blog has frequently mentioned that we’ve evolved to deceive ourselves, because the best liars believe their own lies and can thus deceive others more easily. However, we can’t exactly deceive others about the attractiveness of our mates, can we? I mean, they see them as easily as we do.

    Also, someone commented, “does this not mean that we secretly know our own level of attractiveness?” It probably does: there is no way to deceive others about our looks, since they can see us. The only things we can plausibly fake are “hidden” qualities. This is likely why we’ve evolved the ability to deceive ourselves [and thus others] about qualities others can’t readily observed, but retained the ability to be brutally honest about ourselves and others in regard to things that are easily observed and judged by others.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/asalamon/ Anna Salamon

    For a study pointing in a related and somewhat opposed direction, see What the motivated mind sees . The authors argue that falsely positive views of one’s dating partner are common and contribute to relationship stability.

  • Jay Thomas

    I have a real problem with subjective perceptions of attractiveness being labeled ‘false’ if they fall outside of the consensus view.

    This seems a little like saying I have a ‘falsely positive’ view of the music of Miles Davis if the majority of people prefer the Beatles.

    Furthermore physical attractiveness is an irreducibly fuzzy and context dependent concept. Where does good grooming end and raw physical attractiveness begin? Indeed can we even cleanly distinguish between highly polished social skills and physical attractiveness?

    Factors external to raw physical attractiveness also play a significant role. External attributes such as socioeconomic position, fame and culture dependent social cues are inextricably intertwined in our perception of physical attractiveness as well.

  • Lara Foster

    Jay- Here here!

    I think ‘consensus’ views are far more specific than mere judgments on health and genetic fitness for a variety of social reasons, and are subject to change with fashion and the media. The New Yorker had a recent issue describing trends in what facial features and body types were considered beautiful over time. Certainly fitness doesn’t change by the decade? But ‘consensus’ does.

  • David Merry

    Just a comment on the second study:

    This may suggest something about how people treat each other behind closed doors in satisfying marriages as compared to unsatisfying ones, rather than a bias in people in satisfying marriages. ie. they’re reading different sets of data, not reading the same set of data differently.

    It’s important not to be biased towards attributing bias.

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    @Jay Thomas

    “while others (blonde hair, tallness, long legs) are actually negatively correlated with how physically attracted I am to the person in question”

    Ah, the tragic allergy to blonde. Fortunately these days it’s quite treatable. . .

    But seriously my secret weapon isn’t my gorgeous long-legged blonde tallness, it’s the way I rob you of your IQ:

    “The study examined men’s ability to complete general knowledge tests after exposure to women with different hair colours, according to news reports yesterday.

    Throughout both trials, those participants exposed to blonds recorded the lowest scores.”

  • Jay Thomas

    Frelkin: Interesting theory. Was the ‘consensus attractiveness’ controlled for? I am wondering if the trigger for the reduced mental performance was sexual arousal or longstanding cultural associations of blondeness with cognitive mediocrity. If it was the latter then one might expect to observe a similiar effect on other women as well.
    If it was the former then I suspect that your kryptonite follicles would have little effect on me, thanks to my aforementioned preferences.

    Lara: I agree with you that in consensus views of physical attractiveness the ratio of cultural noise to biological signal is quite high. ‘Ideal’ body types seem to come and go in cycles much like the fashion industry.

    There is probably far more agreement (over time and space) regarding what constitutes ugliness than what constitutes beauty.

  • Ben Jones

    Personally, I seem to perceive noticeable visual variance in the attractiveness of my girlfriend even during single day. For instance, she seems very attractive to me during and after sex, while I seem to notice certain non-attractive features of her face when we argue. Perhaps our hormone levels bias our perception of attractiveness.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say she’s not an OB regular.

  • http://sapereaudere.blogspot.com Anibal

    In “attractiveness´ matters” David I. Perrett and long time collaborators have the answer.