Columbia Dating Scientists Up the Heeby-Jeeby Factor

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 4:01 PM EST

dating.jpgNumber one on Slate's "most read" list at the moment is "An Economist Goes to a Bar and Solves the Mysteries of Dating." The name pretty much says it all: A bunch of researchers from the economics department at Columbia ran a speed-dating service for students at a favorite campus watering hole. After each mini-date, participants were asked to rate their partners on variables such as attractiveness, intelligence, and ambition. Their findings were a cliché come true: Men "did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner's beauty, when choosing, than women did," and "intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women's choices as men's." As for ambition, men "avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition—a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date."

What does it all mean? Simply refer to this neat little paragraph that sums up the researchers' findings:

So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own. Women, on the other hand, care more about how men think and perform, and they don't mind being outdone on those scores.

Never mind the depressing fact that these unimpressive, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus-ish attitudes are present at Columbia, where your typical student is supposed to be busy learning how to "work across disciplines, embrace complexity, and become a fluid, fearless, forward-looking global citizen and scholar." Far more unsettling is the fact that a key point seems to have evaded both the researchers and Slate: Complex and fluid though it may be, Columbia University is most certainly not a microcosm of the larger world. Just because 400 Columbia students (who most likely have a slightly different relationship with the terms "ambition" and "intelligence" from the rest of the population) embraced these unfortunate stereotypes doesn't mean everyone else does.

The researchers' creepiest conclusion by far, though, was that "women got more dates when they won high marks for looks." From whom did the women win these high marks? Not their speed dating partners, but "research assistants, who were hired for the much sought-after position of hanging out in a bar to rate the dater's level of attractiveness on a scale of one to 10." File under: Ewwww!

This all brings us to the ultimate question: Don't Columbia economists have better things to do than scope out co-eds at a campus bar?