Intelligence and emotional competence appear to have little influence on our first impression of potential dating partners

A person’s objectively measured intelligence, creativity, and emotional competence is not a strong predictor of how desirable they seen are as a romantic partner, according to a new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality. Subjective perceptions of these traits, however, do appear to influence initial attraction — or as the researchers say, “appearing to be smart might be more important than being smart.”

“We have noticed that a lot of research on the appeal of abilities relies on ability ratings,” explained study author Gabriela Hofer, a university assistant at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Graz.

“For example, some studies would show participants videos of a person and then let them rate (1) the person’s intelligence and (2) whether they would be interested in a romantic relationship with this person. From other studies we know that such ability ratings are not always accurate, which is why we were interested in whether a person’s objectively measured abilities were related to their appeal as a partner.”

“Additionally, we wanted to give participants the opportunity to have real interactions with each other. For this reason, we decided to do a speed-dating study.”

In the study, 87 women and 88 men (who were between the ages of 18 and 30) met up to 14 members of the opposite sex during speed-dating events in Austria. The participants were given 3 minutes to get to know each other during each of the 1,094 speed-dating encounters.

After each encounter, the participants filled out a score card in which they rated their respective partner’s intelligence, creativity, and emotional management abilities. They also indicated how much would they like to have a short- or long-term relationship with each person, and whether they would like to meet the partner again.

Prior to the speed-dating events, the participants completed objective tests of their verbal, numerical, and spatial intelligence along with a test of creativity and a test of emotional management abilities. The Intelligenz-Struktur-Test 2000 R was used to assess intelligence, the Alternative Uses Task was used to assess creativity, and the Typical Emotional Management Test was used to assess their reactions to emotional situations.

A standardized picture of each participant was also shown to an independent group of five men and five women, who rated their physical attractiveness.

The researchers found that higher subjective ratings of intelligence, creativity, and emotional competence were associated with higher short- and long-term mate appeal. But objective measurements of these traits were almost entirely unrelated to mate appeal.

The most important predictor of attraction among both men and women, however, was physical attractiveness.

“While there are a lot of good reasons to think that more intelligent, creative, and emotionally competent people are more desirable as partners, these characteristics seem to have little influence on whom we find desirable after a first, short date,” Hofer told PsyPost. “What appears to be more relevant at these first meetings are easily observable attributes like physical attractiveness and our own beliefs about how clever, creative, and emotionally competent our interaction partner is.”

But “it is important to note that our study only focused on very first, short interactions,” Hofer added. “Therefore, our results do not allow for any conclusions about whether these abilities are desirable in the long run. It would be interesting to conduct longitudinal research see what role these abilities might play across they formation of a relationship.”

The study, “What you see is what you want to get: Perceived abilities outperform objective test performance in predicting mate appeal in speed dating“, was authored by Gabriela Hofer, Roman Burkart, Laura Langmann, and Aljoscha C. Neubauer.