Do opposites attract? Or are we drawn to similarity?
There's something inherently interesting about competitions of smarts and strength. It usually takes both to win. But time is finite. It's not always possible to be the smartest and the strongest. Such is true in sports, battles, games, and a host of other competitions.
But what about in the context of relationships? People tend to be more attracted to those with good physiques. But the thought of a future partner regularly running 10Ks may not seem as fun as an engaging intellectual conversation. Then again, conventional wisdom says "opposites attract." Perhaps the brainy folks prefer brawny mates.
And then there’s the “homophily” hypothesis, namely that “birds of a feather flock to together.” According to this theory, we tend to be attracted to those who are more similar to us. Perhaps brainy people are more likely to date other brainy people, and brawny people more likely to date brawny people.
To get the bottom of these questions, we conducted a simple experiment.
We had 400 people on Amazon Mechanical Turk read a short bio of a hypothetical person’s dating profile, randomizing their hobbies to be either brainy or brawny. Participants were then asked to rate how much they’d want to go on a date with the person.
Participants were instructed as follows:
Imagine you’re looking for a relationship, so you decide to use an online dating app. You come across the dating profile below. This person is the gender you are interested in, and is fairly attractive.
Participants were then asked, “How much would you want to go on a date with this person? (1 = Not at all, 7 = Very much)” on a 1-7 scale. To test our birds-of-a-feather hypothesis, we asked participants at the end of the study “Which of the following hobbies do you regularly engage in (if any)?” Answer options included fitness, reading, writing, and art (the last item was for a separate experiment). Results The battle between brains and brawns is a stalemate. Looking only at brains vs. brawn overall, we found no significant difference in desire to date between our brawny bio (avg. = 5.04) and our brainy bio (avg. = 5.23), (p = 0.204).
However, we did find support for our “birds of a feather” hypothesis. It appears that brainy people really prefer to date other brainy people, whereas brawny people have a slight preference for other brawny people. When comparing participants who selected “reading” or “writing” as a hobby versus participants who didn’t, we find that readers/writers desired to date our brainy bio person 0.52 points more (10.7%) than our brawny bio person; participants who did not select reading or writing as a hobby desired to date our brawny bio person 0.62 points more (12.7%) than our brainy bio person (p = 0.001).
Similarly, when comparing participants who selected “fitness” as a hobby versus those who didn’t, we find that fitness hobbyists desired to date our brawny bio person 0.31 points more (6%) than our brainy bio person, whereas those who didn’t select fitness as a hobby desired to date our brainy bio person 0.74 points more (16%) than our brawny bio person (p < 0.001).
So, there you have it. There is no victor in this battle of brains vs. brawn. But each side certainly seems to be rooting for their own team. In this case, birds of a feather date each other. That’s probably natural. Whether it’s desirable we’ll leave for the philosophers.
We used independent samples t-tests to test for significant differences in art perceptions between our two experimental conditions. For significant differences, the difference between the two groups' averages would be large and its corresponding “p-value” would be small. If the p-value is less than 0.05, we consider the difference statistically significant, meaning we'd likely find a similar effect if we ran the study again with this population. To test for interaction effects, we used OLS regression analyses with interaction terms.