Rejection has a ‘direct and fast’ influence on what we desire in a romantic partner, study finds

Women quickly become less choosy after they have been rejected for a date, according to research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

“Mate choice involves many complex interactions and decisions. Ultimately, the decisions we make with respect to who we pursue romantically, who we spend our lives with, and who we reproduce with have an enormous impact on our lives and happiness,” said Lisa L.M. Welling of Oakland University, the corresponding author of the study. “Thus, teasing apart the many interconnected aspects of mate choice, such as partner attraction, gives us insight into romantic relationships more generally.”

The study of 66 female college students found being rejected by a potential romantic partner made them significantly less selective.

“We used a fake online dating game where heterosexual female participants created an online dating profiles and were then randomly put into one of three conditions: (1) the rejection condition where they were told that all the men who had viewed their profile had rated them particularly low, (2) the acceptance condition where they were told that all men had rated them particularly high, or (3) the control condition where they were given no feedback,” Welling told PsyPost.

“In reality, no one had viewed their profiles. What we found was that women who thought they had been rejected were less fussy about the desirable traits they expected in a hypothetical romantic partner.”

“Basically, these women cared less about whether or not a hypothetical partner is attractive or has similar interests to them, for example. By comparison, women who were in the acceptance condition or who received no feedback rated these same desirable traits as more important in a potential partner. Women in the acceptance condition also preferred more masculine men than control condition or rejection condition women,” Welling said.

The findings provide evidence that humans have a “mating sociometer,” a mental gauge of our own desirability as a sexual partner.

“All of this suggests that the feedback we receive within the dating world regarding how desirable we are as a potential partner has a direct and fast influence on the quality we expect in our own potential partners,” Welling explained. “If feedback suggests we are high quality, we expect our partners to be as well, but if feedback suggests we’re not that desirable, we’ll take what we can get.”

But the participants in the study weren’t left with suppressed sociometers. “Don’t worry — We promise that we told all participants afterwards, especially the ‘rejected’ ones, that the feedback they received was completely made up,” Welling said.

“There are certainly some limitations to the current work, and more work is certainly needed,” she added. “First, we only focused on women, and so similar research on men is needed. Second, the feedback participants received was from an experimenter (i.e., third-party information) and not directly from potential suitors, which may well have been a more salient cue. We could look at this type of manipulation in future work using actual dating scenarios, such as speed-dating, to see how feedback impacts actual mate choice with real, as opposed to hypothetical, people.”

The study, “The effect of mate value feedback on women’s mating aspirations and mate preference“, was also co-authored by Simon D. Reeve and Kristine M. Kelly.