A recent study has shown that men and women are greatly influenced not only by what their friends think of their potential fling or relationship partner, they also heed the opinions of random strangers!
"We might think that searching for mates is a process best done individually, that we can best gather the appropriate information by ourselves. 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," said Skyler Place, a researcher in Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and lead author of the study.
The concept of 'mate choice copying', where an individual copies the mate selections of others, has been widely documented in other species, particularly birds and fish, and has recently been looked for in humans as well.
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 behavior.
The study 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. 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. Place said interest shown by the men and women was no different when they were asked whether they were interested in a short affair or long-term relationship.
Place said the influence of strangers is also an important addition to mate choice research.
"Of course people care about what friends and family think of their potential romantic partners. Surprisingly, we showed that complete strangers also matter," he said.
The study has been published in an upcoming issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.