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PASADENA, Calif.—For speed daters, first impressions are everything.But it's more than just whether someone is hot or not.We don’t even need to meet our potential future partners in the flesh: just a quick webcam peek of their bedrooms is enough to accurately guess their key personality traits.
Unsurprisingly, the first factor in determining whether someone gets a lot of date requests is physical attractiveness.
The second factor, which may be less obvious, involves people's own individual preferences—how compatible a potential partner may be, for instance.
When some participants saw a person they wanted to date—but who was not rated as very desirable by everyone else—they showed more activation in the rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC), which is also a part of the DMPFC, but sits farther in front than the paracingulate cortex.
The RMPFC has been previously associated with consideration of other people's thoughts, comparisons of oneself to others, and, in particular, perceptions of similarities with others.
For example, likeability serves as a tiebreaker if two people have equal attractiveness ratings.
If someone thought a potential date was more likeable than other people did, then that someone was more likely to ask for a date."Our work shows for the first time that activity in two parts of the DMPFC may be very important for driving the snapshot judgments that we make all the time about other people," O'Doherty says. A few couples were still together six weeks afterward, Cooper says, but the researchers have not followed up.The study, which is published in the November 7 issue of the , is one of the first to look at what happens in the brain when people make rapid-judgment decisions that carry real social consequences, the researchers say."Psychologists have known for some time that people can often make very rapid judgments about others based on limited information, such as appearance," says John O'Doherty, professor of psychology and one of the paper's coauthors."However, very little has been known about how this might work in real social interactions with real consequences—such as when making decisions about whether to date someone or not.Take the “Love Lab” at the University of Washington, where psychologist John Gottman has been thin-slicing the way couples interact since the early 1980s.In no more than 15 minutes of observation, Gottman can predict with 90 per cent accuracy whether a couple will be together in 15 years.Or consider how an art expert thin-sliced a 2500 year-old Greek statue in the blink of an eye and was able to tell it was a fake.Or consult the retired soldier whose thin-slicing intuition can outwit the supercomputers of the US Armed Forces.The great thing about thin-slicing, argues Gladwell, is that we can all do it, especially when it comes to thin-slicing each other.Evolution has honed our social intelligence, allowing us read people accurately based on fleeting first impressions – which is why speed dating and chatroulette might actually be a good idea.This phenomenon was fairly consistent across all participants, says Jeff Cooper, a former postdoctoral scholar in O'Doherty's lab and first author of the paper.In other words, nearly everyone considers physical attraction when judging a potential romantic partner, and that judgment is correlated with activity in the paracingulate cortex."But that's not the only thing that's happening," Cooper adds.