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'First Impression' Factors That Matter When Dating Turns to Love
  • Posted November 3, 2022

'First Impression' Factors That Matter When Dating Turns to Love

When it comes to love, first impressions matter.

But what exactly fuels the flames of romance?

It turns out that compatibility and popularity are two of the key factors shaping who people pursue as potential partners, a new speed-dating study suggests.

“Although we expected that compatibility would be an important factor, we were amazed to find that compatibility was just as strong of a predictor of romantic pursuit as popularity was,” said study author Alexander Baxter, a PhD candidate in the psychology department at the University of California, Davis.

For the study, researchers analyzed romantic first impressions among more than 550 speed-daters, including some men who date men, to rate their romantic interest in potential partners. There were more than 6,600 speed-dates in total during the experiment.

The research team looked at three factors that affect how romantic first impressions form: selectivity, popularity and compatibility.

“If Daniel liked Rose because he tended to like everyone, this would be selectivity,” Baxter explained. “If Daniel liked Rose because everyone liked her, this would be popularity, and if Daniel uniquely liked Rose above and beyond his own flirty disposition and her general popularity, this would be compatibility.”

After the speed-dating events, the researchers asked folks if they dated anyone they met and how their feelings changed over the next two to three months. They used a statistical model to test whether patterns of initial desire during the speed dates predicted what happened next.

The bottom line? People were particularly likely to pursue a romantic relationship with those suitors who were popular and who they were most compatible with, the study found.

“Our findings suggest that although it helps to be popular when it comes to getting a second date, having a unique connection with a potential partner can be just as important,” Baxter said.

The study was published online Nov. 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

First impressions matter, but they aren't necessarily the be-all and end-all, said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“A person may not be immediately appealing, but relationships can grow depending on compatibility effects, such as a sense of humor or how well he or she gets you,” Schwartz said.

These things won't obliterate first impressions, but they can change them, she said. “When you dig deeper, you can get over surface selectivity," she noted.

The opposite is true as well: Someone can make a great first impression and it can go downhill from there, Schwartz said.

“Fireworks do not always happen on the first date, and many people start out as friends and fall deeply in love,” agreed Lori Zaslow, co-founder of Project Soulmate, a matchmaking service, and the star of Bravo's "Love Broker."

Everyone's reasons for attraction are intricate and unique and include temperament, personality, family history and chemistry, she explained.

“Much of attraction and what leads to long-term relationships is intangible,” added Zaslow. “Attraction is initial and instantaneous, and often for reasons we don't understand relating to hormones or timing or scents or who reminds us of people we've previously loved or hated.”

Zaslow shared some tips for successful dating.

  • Do what you love, and you will meet the right person while doing it, so if you enjoy outdoor activities join clubs and groups.
  • When going on a date, don't stare at your phone.
  • Be yourself always.
  • When looking for the one, be realistic. Zaslow said: "Think about the things that you need and cannot live without, [and] prioritize your deal breakers and have a clear understanding of what you are flexible about."

More information

NPR has more about online dating apps.

SOURCES: Alexander Baxter, PhD candidate, psychology department, University of California, Davis; Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor, sociology, University of Washington, Seattle; Lori Zaslow, co-founder, Project Soulmate, and star, Bravo's "Love Broker," New York City; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 2, 2022, online

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