As a psychologist, I have always found the concept of speed dating fascinating.
In fact, some years ago, I decided to try it myself.
It is not that surprising that our decision making system breaks down when the human brain is confronted with too many options.
Similar evidence is found in other non-human animals.
In particular, people tend to assume that it is always a good thing to think long and hard about everything, consciously deliberating different potential outcomes and rationally weighing different pros and cons.
However, an emerging field of research is questioning this traditional view.
In an attempt to cope with the large amount of information and potential choices that we are presented with on a daily basis, we tend to rely on so-called “heuristics” (rules of thumb) that help guide our decision making.
In essence, heuristics are decision-making tools that save effort by ignoring some information; and thus, their essential function is to reduce and simplify the processing of cues and information from our environment. In particular, prior research by Lenton and Francesconi suggests that when the number of potential speed-dating partners goes up, people tend to increasingly rely on heuristics in their decision making strategies.
That’s right, research strongly suggests that your mind has decided on the attractiveness of a face before you are even consciously aware of the fact that you have seen one.Well, several experiments have shown that when shoppers are presented with either an extensive or limited amount of potential consumer choices (e.g.chocolates, jam flavors) more people actually end up making purchases, and are happier, when the choice environment only offers a limited set of options.At the time, I had just moved to Boston and didn’t know that many people yet, so I figured I would give the speed-dating scene a go.As it turns out, I like to talk – so much, in fact, that I have a tendency to talk people’s ears off.Similarly, another study showed that when German students were asked to evaluate pairs of American colleges, the German students predicted their relative ranking with better accuracy than their American peers (based solely on their recognition of the university’s name).Thus, in some cases, having limited knowledge can actually lead to more accurate outcomes.For example, the authors found that in speed-dating events where the amount of potential partners to choose from is relatively large, people predominantly pay attention to information that is easily accessible, such as age, height, body mass index, etc., rather than information that is harder to observe, such as occupation and education.Because of their simplicity, heuristics have long been viewed as inferior to rational thought.Similarly, research on online dating performed by Alison Lenton and Barbara Fasolo indicated that participants presented with more potential partners did not experience any greater emotional satisfaction than participants presented with fewer options.(They were, if anything, more confused about their choices.) These findings do not only pertain to the world of dating.