Too much of a good thing? Variety is confusing in mate choice

Alison P. Lenton, Marco Francesconi

Abstract

Choice variety is supposed to increase the likelihood that a chooser's preferences are satisfied. To assess the effects of variety on real-world mate choice, we analysed human dating decisions across 84 speed-dating events (events in which people go on a series of sequential ‘mini-dates’). Results showed that choosers made fewer proposals (positive dating decisions) at events in which the available dates showed greater variety across such attributes as age, height, occupation and education, and this effect was particularly strong when choosers were confronted with a larger number of opposite-sex speed daters. Additionally, participants attending events in which the available options showed greater variety across these attributes were less likely to choose the consensually preferred mate option and more likely to choose no one at all. In contexts in which time is a limited resource, choice variety—rather than facilitating choice quality or increasing choosiness—is confusing and potentially detrimental to choice quality.

  • Received January 25, 2011.
  • Accepted February 11, 2011.
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