(CBS) What mom thinks about him may be only part of the equation. When it comes to picking a suitable mate, a new study says women (and men) put stock in the opinions not only of family members and friends, but also of total strangers.
“Of course people care about what friends and family think of their potential romantic partners,” Skyler Place, a researcher in the Indiana University Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and a co-author of the study, said in a prepared statement.
“Surprisingly, we showed that complete strangers also matter,” he said. “If you walk into a party and don’t know anyone, you might think, ‘Why do I care what anyone here thinks?’ In reality, we’re paying close attention to what others in our social environment are thinking and doing.”
For the study, 80 students (40 women and 40 men) watched a video showing a series of three-minute speed dates.
Researchers found the men watching the videos were more interested in the speed-dating women if their dates were too, but only if they thought the men were as handsome as themselves.
The more attractive the men in the video, the greater the male students’ interest in the women in the video, Skyler said.
Among the female students, interest in the men in the video increased if their peers in the video appeared interested. But unlike what happened with the male students, the female students paid close attention to the men in the video. If the men were not interested in their speed date, the women watching the tape weren’t as interested in them.
“For men, relative attractiveness of the people they’re watching matters — not just anyone can influence their behavior, just other men they think are at least as attractive as they are,” Place said. “We have also seen signs of this influence for women in a larger study still being analyzed.”
Place said interest shown by the men and women was no different when they were asked whether they were interested in a short affair or long-term relationship.
Why would people care about what strangers think about their choice of a mate? Skyer says because it speeds up the search for love.
“We might think that searching for mates is a process best done individually, that we can best gather the appropriate information by ourselves,” he said. “But humans, like many other animals, also pay attention to the preferences of others, to make for a more efficient search process.”
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