First date connections: it’s all the in the words?

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They say men are from Mars and women are from Venus - so there’s no surprise that when it comes to dating that it’s easy to get wires crossed when having a conversation. 

There’s not much scientific research on the business of communication during a first date, so sociologists from Stanford and Northwestern universities decided to do a little investigation.

The team of researchers analysed the encounters between men and women during four-minute speed dating sessions in an attempt to find out what makes couples feel connected and ascertain the likelihood of a second date taking place. 

There is a great deal of uncertainty about the meaning of signals we send to other people, and how that plays into forging interpersonal connections, but their analysis of nearly 1,000 dates found that words really do matter.

How the words are delivered and when, all make a difference to how people feel toward each other.

According to the study’s findings - a four minute date was enough to forge a “meaningful relationship” - described as going beyond looks and initial motivation.

Female participants recorded lower rates of “clicking” with their dates than men, suggesting that women are more selective - and in this particular situation are more “powerful”. 

All participants who took part in the study were graduate students at Stanford University. They wore audio recording devices during their dates - to allow for analysis later, which included the particular words used, presence of laughter and tone of voice. 

After each four-minute date was over, the participants filled out an evaluation including various questions, such as - whether he or she would like to go out on a “real date” with the person. If both parties said yes, a real date was set up.

For the purposes of this study, the participants also filled out before and after date surveys.

The dates were transcribed and computer software was used to analyse the words and speech to see if any characteristics of the language corresponded to the participants' reporting of feeling a sense of connection.

Some examples of how attraction was expressed by words, tone of voice and expression: 

Men demonstrated attraction by reducing the amplitude of the vocal register (similar tone to a radio broadcaster) and laughing at the women's jokes.

Women on the other hand, indicated their attraction by varying the tone of the voice, lowering the volume of the voice, and speaking in short sentences.

In terms of the significance of spoken words - for both sexes it seems the use of questions is important. It was found asking lots of questions instead of “showing interest by listening” - demonstrated that a person felt they have little in common with the other and indicated signs of boredom. Examples of this include questions such as: "How many brothers do you have?"or "What do you do in your free time?

"Women feel disconnected when they have to ask men questions, or when men ask them questions," explains the researchers. Questions were used by women to keep a lagging conversation going and by men who had nothing to say.

A significant word to signpost that a woman was engaged and interested in the date was understood to be “I”. The researchers explained that women who were happy to talk about themselves demonstrated that they were comfortable in the given situation. Another sign of interest was the use of phrases that looked for assurance, connection or complicity - such as "you know?" or "What I'm getting at is...".

Women are apparently more attracted to men who are happy to talk about the topics that they proposed or use appreciative language including expressions such as: "great" or "good for you", along with expressing sympathy with phrases such as: "you must be sad" or "what a shame" and “that must be tough on you”.

It was also noted that women also make closer connections with men who interrupted them – not as a way to redirect the conversation but to demonstrate understanding and engagement, such as finishing a sentence or adding to it.

The research indicated that both men and women reported a stronger connection when the conversations were focused primarily on the women.

In general men pay more attention to physical attraction than the words a woman says or the expressions she uses during a first date - according to this research.

Successful dates were associated with the women being the main focus of the conversation, with men demonstrating agreement and understanding of the women. Shared stories also indicated a sense of connection, as did speakers who showed enthusiasm by varying their speech to get louder and softer.

Reference: Daniel A. McFarland, Dan Jurafsky, and Craig Rawlings, Making the Connection: Social Bonding in Courtship Situations, American Journal of Sociology, 2013 118:6, 1596-1649

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