New study shows potential mates' negative traits far overshadow positives
Attractive and smart but unlucky in love? New research suggests you might not have luck to blame but rather your own negative traits.
Researchers found that when evaluating potential mates, people give more weight to negative qualities than to positive ones. That is, even if someone has a number of positive qualities, one or two negative qualities can be enough for others to avoid pursuing romantic relationships with them.
The study, published in the December issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, was conducted by researchers from the University of Florida, Western Sydney University, Indiana University, Singapore Management University and Rutgers University. It examined the effect of relationship deal breakers on the formation of romantic or sexual relationships to determine the value that people place on them, in comparison to deal makers.
“We have a general tendency to attend more closely to negative information than we do to positive information,” said Gregory Webster, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of psychology at UF.
Using information from six independent studies, the researchers determined the top deal breakers for people who were making decisions about potential partners. Using those deal breakers, they were able to determine what effect age and gender have on determining which qualities are seen as deal breakers for different people.
The deal breakers are, in no particular order:
- unhealthy lifestyle
- undesirable personality traits
- differing religious beliefs
- limited social status
- differing mating strategies
- differing relationship goals
They also found that the effect of deal breakers is stronger for women and people in committed relationships.
Webster said it’s important to note that a deal breaker for one person may be a dealmaker for another.
For example, if a person is impulsive, some will be attracted to that quality and think of it as a dealmaker, while others who prefer people who are predictable may not look so kindly on that trait.
The researchers also evaluated deal breakers in non-romantic relationships. The effect of negative traits in friendship is not as strong as in romantic relationships, but some deal breakers, like dishonesty, are avoided consistently in all situations.
Although people typically think about potential mates in terms of their positive traits, Webster said that’s because people subconsciously weed out those with undesirable traits from their pool of eligible mates.
“A lot of times, just by avoiding negative traits, people will probably be fairly well off —maybe even more well off — than if they were trying to optimize the best potential partner,” Webster said.
The study’s findings support adaptive attentional biases in human social cognition, which suggests that focusing on the negative serves as a survival function.
“Things that can harm are generally more important [to pay attention to] than things that can help you,” Webster said.