Study: Depressed people more likely to get rejected during speed dating

Depressed people have greater chances of rejection in a dating context, because their unhappiness puts potential romantic partners in a less happy mood, according to a study published in Clinical Psychological Science.

Social isolation is a major factor contributing to the development of depression. Many psychologists believe that depressed people often become involved in a harmful cycle in which their own depressed behavior leads to difficulties with interpersonal relationships that lead to being rejected by others, worsening their social isolation, which in turn leads to deepening depression.

One element of this process was examined in a speed dating study of 136 Belgians led by Madeline Pe of the University of Leuven. Participants completed a depression screening questionnaire and answered questions about their current positive and negative emotions before having a series of 4-minute dating interactions with other participants in the study. After each “date,” each participant gave another rating of their current emotions, and at the end of the evening they indicated whether or not they were interested in seeing each of their partners again.

The more symptoms of depression participants had, the more likely they were to be rejected by their potential romantic partners, as indicated by saying they would not like to meet with them again. The study authors used a statistical technique called mediation analysis to determine whether that increase in the likelihood of rejection was due to changes in emotion that occurred as a result of interacting with a relatively depressed person.

Their results showed that going on a 4-minute date with a depressed person did not increase negative emotions, but did decrease positive emotions, and that this reduction in positive mood in turn led to greater chances of rejecting their depressed partners. In addition to being more likely to reject these partners, study participants also reported feeling less romantic interest in more depressed partners for similar mood-related reasons.

The experience of social rejection is likely to have a negative impact on symptoms of depression, which this study suggests is likely to result in turn in a further increased risk of rejection in future interactions. Over time, this cycle could amplify milder symptoms into a serious case of clinical depression.

“Rejection by strangers likely contributes to their sense of social isolation by preventing them from forming new relationships and developing a broader social support system,” the researchers said. “The experience of rejection… may exacerbate individuals’ symptoms (including feelings of social isolation) and increase their risk of developing clinically significant depression.”

People suffering from symptoms of depression may find more success in dating, as well as in other social relationships, if they first work on reducing these symptoms. People with fewer depressive symptoms run less risk of making their partners feel unhappy, and therefore have less risk of being rejected.