Saturday, April 15, 2006

Speed Dating Experiments

I've been meaning to blog about this for awhile. Ray Fisman, Sheena Iyengar, Emir Kamenica, and Itamar Simonson set up a speed dating experiment among grad students at Columbia to examine dating. They test two broad sets of hypotheses. First, they test a variety of hypotheses about which traits people find desirable. They essentially regress whether or not I say, "yes, I'd like to see you again" on your attributes (like how attractive you are) in order to find out what traits, on average, people find desirable. Second, they exploit variation in how many partners individuals face to examine the effect of more choices on selectivity. That is, they regress the "yes rate" on the number of partners individuals had. Here's the abstract to the main paper:

We study dating behavior using data from a Speed Dating experiment where we generate random matching of subjects and create random variation in the number of potential partners. Our design allows us to directly observe individual decisions rather than just final matches. Women put greater weight on the intelligence and the race of partner, while men respond more to physical attractiveness. Moreover, men do not value women's intelligence or ambition when it exceeds their own. Also, we find that women exhibit a preference for men who grew up in affluent neighborhoods. Finally, male selectivity is invariant to group size, while female selectivity is strongly increasing in group size.

Fisman is interviewed about applying economics to dating here. A taste:

4. Do you think speed-dating is more efficient than traditional search methods?

In some sense, it’s efficient: there are all these slice studies on how 10 seconds’ worth of observation is as predictive of your experience with a professor as a semester’s worth, and they’ve reduced it to 2 seconds and that’s just as good; and they’ve reduced it to just a photo and that’s pretty good, too. So you learn a lot in four minutes, perhaps as much in four minutes as you do in a much longer superficial interaction like, say, a date. So, this does meaningfully provide you with 20 rapid-fire dates, to the extent that we form as much of an impression in 4 minutes, or 10 seconds, as we do in 4 hours. The thing that’s left out of this neat decomposition of people into attributes, though, is actually learning to love someone. And that’s what I think is kind of missing. Focusing on people as a bundle of attributes almost makes people think about this decision in the wrong frame of mind.

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