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The 12 Dating Clichés That Are, Shockingly, True

Patrick Fagan, Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London has dug through lots of psychological studies (some more dubious than others) to find the 'scientific proof' behind 12 cliches about love and dating that you would never want to think are true. And we thought Valentine's Day couldn't get worse...

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1. On the whole, women do like flowers

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One study had women fill out a questionnaire in a room with or without flowers, and then move into a room with “another participant”. Little did they know he was actually a stooge with a (very smooth) script: “My name is Antoine, you seem very nice. I wonder, would you give me your phone number…” Without flowers in the room, 50% said yes; but with flowers, it was a massive 81%.

2. Women find men with babies attractive

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Yes, that episode of Friends where Joey and Chandler use Ross’ baby to pick up women is grounded in some psychological truths.

A study had female participants rate the attractiveness of men in photos who were shown in a negative interaction with a baby (i.e. the baby was crying and the man placed a cookie out of its reach), a neutral interaction (i.e. both man and baby were facing forward) or a positive interaction (i.e. giving a smiling baby a cookie).

Ratings of attractiveness increased as the interactions went from negative to neutral to positive - whether the men were rated as sexual, dating or marital partners. If you can’t get your hands on a baby, research indicates that a pet dog may have a similar effect.

3. Women love men that make them laugh

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A French experiment had three men sit at a table in a restaurant near a woman. In the control condition, the men just talked about their jobs; in the experimental condition, one of the men told two or three jokes. After a few minutes, two of the men left and the remaining man (the joke-teller in the experimental condition) approached the woman and asked for her number.

Without the jokes, 15% gave their number - compared to 43% otherwise! A different study found a strong, positive correlation between measures of humour and mating success.

4. Men like red lipstick

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A study set in a bar at night had a female participant sit on her own, wearing either no lipstick or brown, pink or red lipstick. Two male participants sat at a distance observing her and counting the number of solicitations made every hour by men in the bar.

When the girl was not wearing lipstick, she was contacted by an average of 1.4 men an hour; for brown, pink and red lipstick she was contacted by 1.6, 1.7 and 2.0 men an hour respectively.

5. Ladies love a man in uniform!

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Yes, this is a cliche we hear all the time, but it seems to be grounded in some scientific truth. The same incorrigible French researcher had a man dressed either in a fireman’s outfit or in civilian clothing approach women in the street and ask for their phone number. In normal clothes, 8% of the women gave their number; but for the fireman, it was 22%. The same paper found that men in uniform were more likely to have a smile or a “hello” reciprocated by women in the street.

6. Women like facial hair

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It's not just a hipster thing, apparently. Research suggests that women find heavy stubble more attractive than any other kind of facial hair (that is, clean-shaven, light stubble or full beards); and that amount of facial hair appears to correlate with women’s perceptions of masculinity and parenting ability.

7. Play it cool is always the rule

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In one experiment, participants were asked to imagine that they had an attractive coworker who they tried to talk to every morning. The attractive coworker either displayed a low level of reciprocity (only engaging in conversation once a week), a moderate level (three days a week) or a high level (every day, and they wait outside work, join other conversations and phone at night).

The ratings of attractiveness for the coworker, on a scale of 1 to 7, were 3.7, 4.6 and 3.3 for the low, moderate and high levels respectively. So play it cool, but not too cool.

Similarly, a separate paper found that mates displaying moderate levels of availability were the most desirable. Another study found that women rated men as more attractive when they didn’t know how attractive the men found them.

8. People love compliments

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Researchers in France had an attractive young man approach young women in a town centre and asked if they might be free for a drink. The lothario either started out with the phrase “You know, you are very pretty”, or he didn’t. Without the compliment, he had a 9% success rate, but with it, the figure rose to 23%.

9. Confidence is key

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In this experiment, women viewed a video clip of a man having a discussion at work, and then rated his sexual attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 7. The man was either shown to have low dominance (i.e. he made irregular eye contact, was tense, bowed his head and nodded a lot) or high dominance (i.e. strong eye contact, relaxed posture, head up straight and little nodding). Sexiness was rated at 3.2 and 4.2 respectively.

11. Mimicking the body language of the person you fancy works

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This makes use of the liking heuristic and endears one person to another.

In this experiment, young women participants were asked to mimic (or not mimic) the verbal and nonverbal expressions of men at a speed-dating event. As part of the speed-dating process, men ranked the top 5 women they met in order of how much they would like to swap contact details. The mean rank was 2.3 when no mimicking occurred, compared to 2.9 otherwise – a significant effect.

12. The best ones ARE always taken

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For both men and women, seeing someone in a successful dating context increased their perceived attractiveness!

This study had male and female participants rate the attractiveness of members of the opposite sex shown in photos. They then watched video clips of them in successful or unsuccessful dating scenarios, and afterwards rated their attractiveness again.

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