The “Out of My League” Effect

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Are people turning you down because you’re out of their league?

This week, I introduced an interesting online dating experiment (check out that post).  You might remember the set-up:  US and Korean economists, an online dating party, five days, 600 people, and one unstinting algorithm predicting each person’s desirability.  Participants could send at most 10 “ask-out” messages, 2 of which could arrive with a virtual rose to signal special preference, and could accept up to 10 dates.  The sample was sliced up by desirability scores into the bottom and top 30% and the middle 40%.

While date requests and roses rained on the haves and the have-nots without particular pattern, the economists noticed an interesting trend.  Senders of all stripes tended to propose “up”—preferring to ask for dates with people slightly (or a lot) more attractive than themselves.  This trend was not flat across the sample:  with increasing attractiveness went ballooning confidence.  The more attractive the sender, the further out of their league they were willing to reach when asking someone out.  (Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t evaluate the resulting success rate, which was an oversight in my opinion.)

Still, we see here the first of two out-of-my-league effects: the more desirable you are, the better a shot you’ll think you have with people who are, well, further out of your league.

The researchers went on to find, against initial logic, that recipients did not always accept date requests from people more attractive than themselves.  That’s odd, right?  If everyone tended to “ask up”, why weren’t they “accepting up” as well?

Probably because of the second out-of-my-league effect: when someone who is out of your league wants to pursue you, they may be more successful if they can prove that they’re serious.

Let me explain.  Last time, I mentioned that, all things being equal, attaching a rose to a request for a date increased the acceptance rate by 20%.  But what really drove that 20% impact?  The roses that made a statistically significant impact (meaning that people were more likely to accept the date than they were in the same scenario without a rose) in four cases:

a rose sent to a middle recipient from a top sender

a rose sent to a bottom recipient from a top sender

a rose sent to a bottom recipient from a middle sender

a rose sent to a middle recipient from a bottom sender

You’ll notice that three of these four situations involved “asking down.”   Roses appeared to pack the most punch when sent to the middle group, and especially when the sender was more attractive.

What was going on?  Why were the recipients more likely to accept these seemingly better dates when a rose was attached?  Why not just accept them all?  Let’s assume that the receiver did actually think the sender was a bit more attractive than themselves.  We can only guess that perhaps they also calculated how interested the sender would be in them.  Perhaps they were most concerned about the chance for success in the long-run.  Without a rose, maybe a date request from someone who was out of their league seemed insincere.

If the data is right, this second out-of-my-league effect suggests the interesting possibility that people might be turning you down not out of disinterest, but because they perceive a mismatch.  People want to go on dates that will work out.  Make sure you turn up the sincerity, even when you think you’re a shoe-in.

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2 responses to “The “Out of My League” Effect

  1. Pingback: Ugly People Try For Just As Many Dates As Top Hotties | Where Is This Going?

  2. I just turned down a really cute guy because I am afraid of rejection. Glad to know I’m not the only one. Wish I would have said and given it a chance anyway.

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