Everyone has biases and preferences, which we call “individual differences.” But most people share the same kind of biases regardless of their actual individual preferences. These in-built universal biases are called cognitive biases that make most of us prefer and notice 1 thing over another.
These systematic biases affect our perceptions and decisions in some capacity. And, like in all other things, they also matter when finding dates. Particularly during and before your “first dates.”
Where are the biases?
You’ll see them most after a break-up when you are ready to date again.
You’ll see them while evaluating your options on dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.
You’ll see them when you have that first conversation.
You’ll see them when you start asking, “Why.. this person?”
What’s their effect?
They’ll alter your feelings after meeting them for the first time.
They’ll automatically filter out most of your dating opportunities.
They’ll make you seek out a specific type of person.
Let’s look at these biases so you make reasonably healthy dating choices.
Baader Meinhof illusion
If you think of a specific type of person you want to date – with a specific interest, physique, and style of talking – you start noticing that type more often.
Bias: Once we start spotting something specific, we conclude it’s more abundant around us. Also called the frequency illusion because we overestimate the frequency of what we’ve learned to spot. E.g., If you learn of narcissism, you start spotting it everywhere, thinking it’s very common.
One specific attractive quality about a person makes that person feel like an overall great person.
Bias: We let our judgment of 1 feature or trait of a product or person color our judgment of other features or traits of that product or person. E.g., loving someone’s physique can make us think they are also kind-hearted and a good person in general.
Hot-cold empathy gap
Your mood and biological state, including hormone changes, psychiatric medication, menstruation, workouts, hunger, and heat, affect your decisions unconsciously, and you can’t predict them consciously.
Bias: Bodily arousal influences our decisions and preferences in ways we cannot predict when that level of arousal changes. E.g., you might love rock music when you are pumping in the gym but dislike it when you are calm, but you’ll conclude you love rock music in general.
A few bad experiences with some people make you judge everyone similar to them as red flags.
Bias: We seek information that fits into our preconceived notions and reject information that doesn’t. E.g., if you think dieting is not useful for weight loss, you might google “why dieting does not reduce weight.”
A friend you’ve never been attracted to slowly gets attractive, but you don’t notice. And when someone else notices, you suddenly feel attracted to them.
Bias: We fail to recognize steadily changing and unexpected objects/circumstances in our surroundings while they are happening, usually through habituation. E.g., you might not notice when the sky gets cloudy, even though you are outdoors.
The volume of dating opportunities you see on dating apps confuses and overwhelms you, and you decide to meet a friend of a friend of a friend instead.
Bias: Too many options lead to indecision and decision paralysis because it overwhelms the brain. E.g., We often fail to select a show to start while browsing on Netflix.
High effort into getting a single date makes you rationalize your date as a great person because you’ve put in so much effort. Simping can make you delulu.
Bias: The value we add to something is directly proportional to the effort we think goes into it. E.g, Effort to please others makes people likable.
If someone is attracted to you, you are a green flag. But if someone gives you less attention, they are a red flag.
Bias: We take credit for our wins and blame others for our losses, usually to protect our self-esteem and ability. E.g., If others are silent in a group hangout, it’s because they are boring. But if others are well-engaged, you must be an engaging person.
You find someone with a minor red flag more trustworthy than someone with no red flags.
Bias: Small imperfections, aka blemishes or faults, make a product (or people) more appealing than a completely manicured product or too-goo-to-be-true person. Blemishes make something/someone honest/transparent and “human”. E.g., A 4.8-star product rating is more reliable than one with only 5-star ratings.
A past relationship that turns toxic makes you seek out others who might be toxic for you only because it’s a familiar experience.
Bias: Being repeatedly (but not too repeatedly) exposed to something makes it familiar, easy to process, and therefore, more comforting. E.g., you might find yourself enjoying a song you disliked after repeatedly hearing it on Instagram.
Think you know your biases now? Take this quiz to find out!
Overcoming biases in 1st dates
1. Talk in the third person.
When we speak in the 3rd person, such as using ‘He/She/they instead of “I/Me,” we create a psychological distance that dilutes the emotional gravity of the situation. Psychological distance also allows us to take extra perspectives that we may have ignored.
So, describe your dating concerns to a friend in the 3rd person. And if it is not possible for you to do this, explore how a friend (a 3rd person, technically) summarizes and captions your problems. That would automatically offer psychological distance.
2. Speaking in a different language.
The language we speak affects our thoughts. For multi-linguals, ideas are expressed differently in different languages. So, discussing your dating in a different language also changes perspectives that may highlight your biases.
Speaking in your second language (or nth language) is a good way to counter the framing effect, too. Framing (the word choice, the tone, the imagery) highlights a specific perspective on how things are said. “This glass is half empty” is a negative frame. “This glass is half full” is a positive frame. A relatable style of talking that matches your culture is a social frame. Using a second language typically dilutes the effects of the framing of words because they are meant to create a bias.
3. Effortful thought without rationalization.
Most biases resolve themselves when you put in effortful thought. But at some point, effortful thought – aka overthinking – can either cause anxiety/confusion or make you rationalize a bad decision. Try to keep your thoughts crisp to spot the biases.
4. Sleep on it
Sleeping re-organizes and simplifies information in the brain. The hot-cold-empathy gap is particularly difficult to spot because it is purely biological without much self-reflection. By sleeping on your decisions, you reduce the effect of your body’s physical state on your preferences. Better yet, see if your decision is consistent when you are thirsty, hungry, well-slept, safe, or aroused. If the decision doesn’t change, you’ve countered the bias.
5. Don’t look for just 1 green flag
The Halo effect can make anyone with a hot body, great hair, a great job profile, or just humor feel like an ideal choice. This overgeneralization can lead to many problems. So reflect on your preferences and acknowledge what you want, and then you will see if you are actually getting it.
6. Expose yourself to a variety of people
There is one thing diversity and variety promise – chance encounters and new experiences that do not fit into our preconceived notions. Bring variety into the people you meet to battle confirmation bias in dating or falling into old patterns. Be open to experiences.
There you go, you have only 1 task in the end – notice the biases, discuss the biases, and make more satisfying dating decisions.
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Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. My content here is referenced and featured in NY Times, Forbes, CNET, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, 10-15 books, academic courses, and research papers.
I’m a full-time psychology blogger, part-time Edtech and cyberpsychology consultant, guitar trainer, and also overtime impostor. I’ve studied at NIMHANS Bangalore (positive psychology), Savitribai Phule Pune University (clinical psychology), and IIM Ahmedabad (marketing psychology).
I’m based in Pune, India. Love sci-fi, horror media; Love rock, metal, synthwave, and pop music; can’t whistle; can play 2 guitars at a time.