The typical first date looks like coffee, drinks or maybe dinner. Sure, it’s easy to plan and less stressful to prepare for, but could taking the easy way out be affecting the outcome of your dates?
Relationships, Science and Two Bridges
One of the most famous relationship science studies is that of Dutton and Aron (1974). In this study, the researchers examined the idea of misattribution of arousal and it’s relation to feelings of attraction. Misattribution of arousal describes a situation in which a person mislabels the arousal (or alertness) experienced and associates it with something else (like believing the stomachache you have during a test is due to your lack knowledge about the material, rather than the bad food you ate for breakfast). In this situation, you are making a decision based on your interpretation of your body’s physiological state.
In the Dutton and Aron study, men, crossing either a shaky and high-off-the-ground or sturdy and low-to-the-ground bridge, encountered a female research assistant. The female researcher presented the men on both bridges with an ambiguous picture and asked them to tell a story about it. She also gave the men her phone number and told them to call her should they have any questions about the study. The researchers found that men on the higher and shakier bridge were much more likely to include sexual imagery in their stories about the pictures they were shown compared to those on the sturdy bridge. In addition, those on the high-off-the-ground bridge were also more likely to call the research assistant.
So Are Men Afraid Of Heights?
So how does this relate to misattribution of arousal? Basically, the men on the shakier bridge experienced higher arousal levels than those on the sturdy bridge. Instead of connecting this experienced arousal to the fear that may come along with being on that high-off-the-ground bridge, they associated it with the woman that they encountered. Essentially, they assumed that what they were feeling was attraction.
Other studies have shown similar results. For example, Cohen, Waugh, and Place (1989) found that couples want to be near each other more after watching a high-arousal movie, compared to a low-arousal movie.
Should I Meet My Date On A Bridge?
So how can this research help us in our everyday lives and inform our dating practices? While most people opt for meeting a person for drinks or dinner on the first date, it may be wise to do something that will increase your arousal level instead. Take your date out dancing or even on a hike. This way, the arousal experienced as a result of the activity can be attributed to you. Of course, it is important for you to make sure that the person you are taking out likes to dance and/or is a fan of nature, lest you wind up taking your date too far out of their comfort zone.
Worst case scenario, if you can’t find anything arousal-inducing for your first date, be sure to take the more daring path as you two head out for drinks. Perhaps you’ll encounter a shaky bridge along the way.
You may also be interested in 5 Unique, Fun First Date Ideas: Breaking Away From The Norm
Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 510–517.
Cohen, B., Waugh, G., & Place, K. (1989). At the movies: An unobtrusive study of arousal-attraction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 691-693.