A new methodology which suggests that people's implicit preferences actually predict how much they like dating a hottie has been developed by scientists.
Stating that one doesn't don't care if they land a partner who is "hot" or "sexy" is relatively commonplace, but what people say they want and what they actually want are often two very different things when it comes to romantic attraction.
According to researchers from Northwestern University and Texas A and M University, the new methodology measures people's implicit, split-second responses gets around this problem.
"People will readily tell you what they value in a romantic partner," Eli Finkel, co-author of the study, said.
"But study after study shows that those preferences don't predict whom daters are actually attracted to when they meet flesh-and-blood partners. Now we can get under the hood with this quirky methodology to see what people actually prefer in live-interaction settings," he said.
According to Paul W. Eastwick, lead author of the study, the findings of the study raise questions about the way we determine what people want in a partner.
"If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn't care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn't worth all that much," Eastwick said.
"Instead, it would actually be more useful to measure her reaction times on this new task," he said.
Focused on physical attractiveness, the implicit measure in this study was based on reaction times to various words flashed in the middle of a computer screen.
The participants' task was to quickly sort synonyms of "physical attractiveness" with other words that they happen to like, such as tequila, or motorcycles, or romance novels.
According to the researchers, people who perform well on this task have a strong implicit preference for physical attractiveness.
"In many cases, people's consciously stated attitudes and preferences predict their behaviour quite well," Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology and faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, said.
"But in the case of attraction, people's implicit, unconscious preferences seem to do a better job," she said.
A number of psychology studies reveal a disconnection between stated preferences for partners and actual choices. Most of the studies use explicit measures in which people consciously report what appeals to them in a partner.
In this new study, the implicit measure that the researchers developed predicted how much the participants liked physically attractive potential partners, both at a speed-dating event and in a face-to-face interaction in the laboratory.
"People's reports of why they like certain partners might not be especially accurate," Eastwick said.
"But that doesn't mean that romantic desire is random. The reasons might still be there, hovering just outside of conscious awareness," he added.
The study has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.