Tag Archives: gay dating advice

Move Over Cupid, Proximity is the New Matchmaker

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When I’m not near the one I love, I love the one I’m near.

—E. Y. Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow

Proximity and Repeated Exposure

We never really think about it, but is it really surprising that students who take the same courses, sit next to each other in class, or live side by side in dorm rooms tend to develop closer friendships than those who don’t? Sales people in large department stores form closer friendships and ties with those who work alongside them in the same department than with people who work just several yards away in another area.

Are humans just natural love-magnets that attract people who are physically close to us? Or, is there some other explanation for the strong positive effect of proximity? One of the most interesting explanations was offered by researcher Robert Zajonc, who viewed the positive effect of physical proximity as the result of “repeated exposure.” Repeated exposure, it turns out, increases our liking for practically everything, from the routine features of our lives to clothing choices, foods, music, and people.

People Don’t Like What’s Not Familiar to Them

Humans have an inborn discomfort to people and environments that are not familiar to them. On top this, we are socialized from a very young age to avoid unfamiliar things and people. Do you recall your mom telling you, “don’t touch that, you don’t know where its been” or “don’t talk to strangers”? And even as adults, it’s very unlikely that we would respond positively to a stranger, even though this fear is completely irrational. How would you feel if a guy randomly approached you on the street and told you that he would like to get acquainted with you? Most of us are likely to assume that the stranger is crazy, drunk, trying to sell us something, convince us of something, or even hurt us.

…But They Like What’s Familiar To Them

But what if we have seen this same stranger every time you went shopping at the supermarket or on the bus on your way to school – would you react differently? More likely than not, you would. Repeated exposure tells us that the person, or thing, is not dangerous, and it puts us at ease. This occurs even when we are not consciously aware that we were exposed to a particular person. In a study that demonstrated this, subjects were asked to talk about some neutral topic with two people who were confederates of the experimenter. Before the conversation, a photograph of one of the confederates was flashed on a screen so quickly that the subjects were unaware of it. Despite their lack of awareness of this subliminal exposure, the subjects still responded more favorably toward the familiar person than they did toward the person whose photograph was not flashed.

In another experiment, men and women who did not know each other were asked to look in each other’s eyes for 2 minutes (a long time when you look into the eyes of someone you do not know). The result was that both the men and the women reported an increase in their romantic attraction to the person with whom they locked eyes. Of course, this is not practical in a real life situation. Saying to someone, “let’s look into each other’s eyes for two minutes” would likely be perceived as bizarre rather than romantic.

Repeated Exposure Intensifies All Feelings, Positive and Negative

So let’s say there’s a guy at work you don’t like or you don’t get along with. Should you spend more time with him or ask him to lock eyes with you for two minutes? NOOOOO.

When someone annoys us, repeated exposure, rather than making us like that person more, will intensify our negative feelings. This explains why police records show that most acts of violence do not happen between strangers, but between people who are close, such as husband and wife, family members, friends, and neighbors. In other words, repeated exposure intensifies the dominant emotion in the relationship. When the dominant emotion is anger, repeated exposure enhances the anger.

Suggestions for People Seeking Love

Try to arrange your life in a way that allows you to have many opportunities to meet people you want to engage in a friendship or relationship with regularly through your workplace, residence, or recreational activity. An opportunity to meet and get acquainted is almost a prerequisite for the development of a romantic relationship. But, meeting once is not enough. Don’t count on “love at first sight” because that rarely happens. Repeated exposure is much more powerful and reliable than waiting for someone to pop up out of the blue and confess their love to you.

But keep in mind, meeting repeatedly does not guarantee love. Just as much as repeated exposure can increase positive feelings of you in someone, a negative impression can be exacerbated by repeated exposure as well. If the first impression is negative, it is best to cut contact, let the first impression dissipate, and then give the relationship another chance. In such a case, repeated exposure will not change the initial dislike or disdain into love but will most likely increase them.

Sources:

Kellerman, J., Lewis, J., & Lard, J. D. (1989). Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love. Journal of Research in Personality.

White, G. L. & Shapiro, D. (1989). Don’t I know you? Antecedents and social consequences of perceived similarity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bornstein, R. F., Leone, D. R., & Galley, D. J. (1987). The generalizability of subliminal mere exposure effects: Influence of stimuli perceived without awareness on social behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Pierce, C. A., Byrne, D., & Aguinis, H. (1996). Attraction in organizations: A model of workplace romance. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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Love is Priceless, But It’s Not Cheap, Either

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Pick Up Your Kids on Time, Please

Let’s say you run a daycare center and you wanted to reduce the amount of parents who pick up their children late. What would you do? Credit card companies impose late fees when we don’t pay by a certain due date, libraries impose fines on overdue books, so would imposing a fine on parents picking up their children late be an effective deterrent? Sounds reasonable right?

Wrong. In fact, there was a daycare that actually implemented this and it had long-term negative consequences.

Why? That’s because we live simultaneously in two different worlds— one where social norms prevail, and the other where market norms dictate the rules. Social norms are those friendly requests that people make to one another. You ask your neighbor: Would you mind walking my dog next weekend while I’m on my business trip? Or you ask a friend who lives nearby: Can you help me change my flat tire? For things like these, instant payback is not necessary but keeps a door open for future reciprocity.

On the other hand, we also have a world governed by market norms, which is very different. These are things like wages, prices, rents, interest, and costs-and-benefits. When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for—nothing more, nothing less.

Before the fine was introduced, the teachers and parents had a social contract, with social norms about being late. Thus, if parents were late, they felt guilty about it—and their guilt compelled them to be more prompt in picking up their kids in the future.

But once the fine was imposed, the daycare center had inadvertently replaced the social norms with market norms. Now that the parents were paying for their tardiness, they interpreted the situation in terms of market norms. In other words, since they were being fined, they could decide for themselves whether to be late or not, and they frequently chose to be late. Needless to say, this was not what the daycare center intended.

A few weeks later after realizing that the fine didn’t work in reducing tardy parents, the daycare removed the fine. What do you think happened to the behavior of those parents? Did they go back to social norms as well and start feeling guilty? Nope. Even though the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change and continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, there was an increase in the number of tardy pickups since now both the social norms and the fine had been removed.

The Cost of Sex and Love

When we keep social norms and market norms on their separate paths, life runs pretty smoothly. Let’s take sex, for instance. We can have it for free in the social context, where it is warm and emotionally nourishing. But there’s also a market for sex, sex that is on demand and that costs money. As long as we keep these two realms separate, there shouldn’t be any problems. We shouldn’t expect to charge a boyfriend or girlfriend $50 each time they want sex, nor should we expect prostitutes to provide us with everlasting love. Makes sense. But when social and market norms collide, all hell breaks loose.

Let’s say a guy takes a girl out for dinner and a movie, and he pays for everything. They go out again, and he pays the bills once more. They go out a third time, and he’s still springing for the meal and the entertainment. At this point, he’s hoping for at least a passionate kiss at the front door. His wallet is getting perilously thin, but worse is what’s going on in his head: he’s having trouble reconciling the social norm (courtship) with the market norm (money for sex). On the fourth date he casually mentions how much this “romance” is costing him. Bzzzzzzt! Now he’s crossed the line. She calls him cheap and storms off. He should have known that one can’t mix social and market norms—especially in this case—without implying that the she is a tramp. (This is just one hypothetical scenario, though. I would never condone dating someone who doesn’t at least offer to pay their share after the second date.) 

The point is that introducing market norms into social exchanges, violates the social norms (whatever they may be) and hurts the relationships. Once this type of mistake has been committed, recovering a social relationship is close to impossible. If you’ve ever offered a potential romantic partner the chance to cut to the chase, split the cost of the courting process, and simply go to bed, the odds are that you will have wrecked the romance forever.  

What Should I Do When Social Norms Aren’t Clear?

If you’ve learned anything from the past two examples, you know that the last thing you want to do is make your date into a market transaction. But what about in situations like gay dating when social norms aren’t clear? Who pays for dinner? The entertainment? There are, in fact, many norms to choose from: Should you follow the old-fashioned way of courtship and have the more masculine guy pay for both people? (WTF, are you serious?) Should the guy who asks the other to go out treat him? Should one guy pay more often if he is making more money? Should they split the bill equally each time? What do you choose? 

My advice: go read Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions if you’re still unsure.

Sources:

Predictably Irrational

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Does Flattery Work? How About Insincere Flattery?

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You have an amazing fashion sense. Those clothes you’re wearing today — they look great!  Seriously!

Of course, you don’t believe me. But chances are, on an unconscious level you do believe me, and my compliment makes you feel warm and gooey inside, enough to predispose you to do something nice for me. Muwahahaha

Usually, when a friend gives you a compliment, you feel flattered because you take it as a sincere compliment. That’s because friends don’t usually have an ulterior motive to make you like them any more than they should. But what if a salesman at CarMax or the hairstylist at your salon gives you a compliment? Normally, your BS meter should go off, discounting that compliment because you realize that they both have a financial motive to flatter you and keep you as a customer. But this is all happening on a conscious level. What is going on at the unconsciously? How are your behaviors affected by these efforts to flatter you?

The distinction between conscious thoughts and unconscious feelings is crucial. We can hold opposite conscious and unconscious views of the same subject at the same time, as we all know, but what most people aren’t aware of is that our unconscious ideas and feelings have a tremendous reign over our behavior, much more than we give it credit for.

Jaideep Sengupta, along with Elaine Chan, both professors of marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, examined how flattery affects our decision-making. In their study, participants were shown a flyer complimenting them for being stylish and chic and were asked to imagine that it had come from a clothing store. The participants knew perfectly well the compliment wasn’t aimed specifically at them, and their ulterior motive was plain — the leaflet contained a message asking them to shop at their store. There was nothing subtle about the attempt to flatter — its obviousness was “over the top”.

On a conscious level, the participants discounted the value of the compliment because of its impersonal nature and the ulterior motive. However, their results suggest that even after discounting, the initial positive reaction to the flattering message does not get wiped out; instead, it coexists with the discounted evaluation. When participants were given a choice, they were more likely to choose a coupon from a store that had complimented them than from one that hadn’t. So even though they were consciously aware of the fact that they we re being flattered insincerely, they still chose the store that complimented them. This may seem weird, but to me, this makes sense. Human beings are social creatures and we are driven to pursue validation. Even if the validation is blatantly insincere, I still think many, if not most, people would prefer that over no recognition at all. Chan and Sengupta’s findings suggest that flattery has an insidious ability to pierce through the conscious mind and into the unconscious, where it creates persistent feelings that could affect the outcomes of all kinds of activities.

Two things to take away from this post:

Flattery, even insincere flattery, works. Also, stay as far far away from marketers and people with MBA’s. They know too much…

Source: “Insincere Flattery Actually Works: A Dual Attitudes Perspective” Journal of Marketing Research (2010).

http://www.bm.ust.hk/~mark/staff/Jaideep/Jaideep%20JMR-Feb%202010.pdf

Image: Wesley Bedrosian for The Boston Globe

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