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It’s Not Me, It’s You: Negative Qualities More Important To People When Evaluating Potential Mates

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It looks like putting your best foot forward when trying to find love is ineffective as researchers discover that people looking for mates focus more on negative qualities than the positive ones.

In a study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, an international team of researchers sought to examine how deal-breakers affect the formation of sexual or romantic relationships, determining how much value people assign them compared with deal-makers.

They used data from six different studies to identify top deal-breakers for those looking for potential partners. The deal-breakers were: unattractiveness, differing relationship goals, unhealthy lifestyle, differing mating strategies, undesirable personality traits, limited social status and differing religious beliefs.

The researchers also discovered that deal-breakers have a stronger effect on people in serious relationships and women, and that what could be deal-breakers for some might be deal-makers for others.

Take for instance, frugality. While some people may look at the trait as akin to stinginess, others will see it in a positive light as being wise with finances.

Deal-breakers also exist in non-romantic relationships, but negative traits affect friendships less severely than romantic relationships. However, certain deal-breakers, such as dishonesty, were avoided consistently across all situations in both romantic and non-romantic relationships.

While people generally look for the good in another, those looking for potential partners subconsciously zoom in on negative qualities, pointed out the researchers.

Based on their findings, they saw that people evaluating mates have the tendency to put more importance on negative characteristics than a person's positive ones, so much so that, even if an individual has only one or two negative traits in a sea of positive attributes, those will be enough for some to avoid pursuing romantic connections with them.

"A lot of times, just by avoiding negative traits, people will probably be fairly well off ... than if they were trying to optimize the best potential partner," said Gregory Webster, one of the authors of the study.

The results of the study support what are called adaptive attentional biases in human social cognition. These suggest that highlighting the negative is a survival means, which makes sense given that paying attention to what could be harmful generally leads to positive outcomes.

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