There are many factors that decide whether we are attracted to someone. Of note are observations from the science file “Wanted: Tall, Dark, Rich, and Nice. Why Do Women Want It All?” Women with large eyes, prominent cheekbones, a small nose, and other youthful features are considered attractive, just as a square jaw, broad forehead, and other masculine features are appealing in men. Various situational factors can also influence attractiveness. For example, having a relationship in secret is more attractive than having a relationship out in the open. In a study affectionately called the “footsie study,” researchers asked a pair of opposite-sex participants to play footsie under a table in the presence of another pair of participants (none of the participants were romantically involved with each other). When the act of playing footsie was kept a secret from the others, those involved found each other more attractive than when the footsie game was not kept a secret.
Interestingly, time is also an important factor. We’ve all heard the story. It’s 1:30 a.m. and almost closing time at the bar. You see the girl you noticed earlier in the night sitting across the room. But now that it’s almost time to go, she’s looking a lot better than you first thought. Do the girls (or guys) really get better looking at closing time?
James Pennebaker and colleagues investigated this question with a study using another affectionate name: the “closing time” study. They surveyed bar patrons at three different times during the night. The study found that people were rated as more attractive when closing time approached! Yes, it appears that girls and guys really DO get better looking at closing time. As the deadline to choose a partner draws near, the discrepancy between who is attractive and who’s not is reduced. This means that throughout the night, it becomes more difficult for us to determine who we really find attractive.
Why does this occur? Well, the obvious reason might be alcohol; however, subsequent research of this phenomenon took alcohol into account and found that it did not explain this effect. Another idea was simple economics. As a commodity becomes scarce, it becomes more valuable. Thus, early in the evening one can be more discriminating because there is ample time to choose a partner. As the time in which to acquire the commodity runs out, the desire for the commodity increases.
The Effect of Time on eHarmony
When are people on eHarmony the most attractive? If you are a current eHarmony user, you may have occasionally been asked to rate a match. We took a random week and looked at thousands of eHarmony users to see if their match ratings were different depending on the day of the week. Here’s what we found:
Attractiveness ratings were pretty steady from Monday to Thursday, but there was a peak on Friday and then a drop during the weekend. It seems that the day of the week has a big impact on how people rate their matches. Similar to the closing time study, we might build people up as the weekend and “date night” approach, but by Saturday this motivation is gone.
What time and day were people rated the highest?
4 a.m. on Friday. At the end of a long week (and a long Thursday night!), these eager people are likely motivated to view people as more attractive in order to get that Friday or Saturday night date.
What time and day were people rated the lowest?
9 a.m. on Sunday. It seems with an entire week ahead of you before the next date-filled weekend, there is more room to be picky!
This, of course, is just one interpretation of these findings. In fact, here in the R&D department, we have debated extensively as to why Fridays are the highest and Sundays are the lowest for match ratings! Perhaps people are pickier on a Sunday because they had a great date on Saturday night. Or perhaps people are just happier on Friday because it’s the end of the workweek and their good mood translates into higher attractiveness ratings for their matches.
We’re sure there are many different reasons and we’d love to hear your take on this subject! Why do you think people are rated highest on Fridays and lowest on Sundays? Do you notice this trend in your own behavior?
What can you do to Prevent this “Closing Time” Bias?
Scott Madey and colleagues replicated the “closing time” study, but this time they noted whether the bar goers were currently in a romantic relationship or not. They found that people currently in a relationship did NOT show this closing time effect. Instead, they show consistent ratings of attractiveness throughout the night. Back to the economics idea of dating, people who already have a relationship don’t really care about the scarcity of attractive people anymore. They have their partner and aren’t looking for a new one (we hope!). The availability of attractive people is not important to them, and therefore, the approach of closing time has no influence on them. This means something very important for all you single folk out there: your best eHarmony wingman may be your buddy who is currently in a relationship, because he (or she) is not affected by “closing time” goggles! So, if you’re uncertain about a match, have one of your “taken” friends give the person a look over!
Pennebaker, J. W., Dyer, M. A., Caulkins, S., Litowitz, D. L., Ackerman, P. S., Anderson, D. B., & McGraw, K. M. (1979). Don’t the girls get prettier at closing time: A country and western application to psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5, 122-125.
Madey, S. F., Simo, M., Dillworth, D., Kemper, D., Toczynski, A., & Perella, A. (1996). They do get more attractive at closing time, but only when you are not in a relationship. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 18(4), 387-393.
Wegner, D. M., Lane, J. D., & Dimitri, S. (1994). The allure of secret relationships. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 66, 287-300.