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A new study argues that how we rate people’s attractiveness often changes when we meet people in real life, and therefore might not be the best way to rate potential partners online.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Kansas, and sought to look at how we evaluate the attractiveness of people we meet online versus offline.
The researchers randomly divided participants into three groups – in the first, heterosexual undergraduate students saw photos of 10 people from the opposite sex, and were asked to rate their attractiveness from 1 to 10.
These students were then directed to a lab, where they met one of the people they had just rated for a 10 minute chat.
After the conversation, the participants were then asked a series of questions about that person, such as whether they thought they were likeable, charismatic, smart or funny.
Each undergrad was then asked to evaluate the same 10 photos again by attractiveness.
Looking at this second round of ratings, the researchers found that there was a “signifiant difference” in the attractiveness rating for the person they had just interacted with.
Jeffrey Hall, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, said: “Two characteristics played an important role in whether the rating changed. One was social attractiveness, which is whether we think we could be friends.
“It’s not sexual attractiveness or romance, but likability. The other was combined sense-of-humor or being-a-fun-person measure. If you’re rated more highly in those two things, your appearance rating goes up more.
“If you are friendly and have a great sense of humor, you stand to gain a lot by getting your foot in the door. Physical attractiveness is not fixed; it’s malleable.”
The study found that those who benefited most in the second round of ratings were those originally given a mid to low attractiveness score.
However, for those who already got a high attractiveness rating, the in-person meetings did not improve their score much, as “there’s a ceiling effect. You can’t get much better,” Hall said.
The other two groups in the study were made up of people who did not rate their partners before interacting with them.
The first pre-rated 10 photos but did not rate their partner, and the second did not rate anyone at all.
According to the researchers, the results found that if you rated your partner first, it decreased your enjoyment of the subsequent real-life conversation you had with them, and the perception of their personality.
Hall said: “It isn’t rating people that diminishes the quality of a first meeting. It is rating your conversation partner in comparison to ostensibly available others.
“Online daters understandably become overwhelmed with the number of choices. You reduce your evaluation of your conversation partner because you saw more attractive choices that you think you could have had. It makes your in-person experience worse.
“Using physical attractiveness to sort people to date is a bad strategy. It misses a lot of what makes for a good conversation, and the characteristics of a good conversational partner change how attractive they are in your eyes.”
Read more here.