Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Looks paramount for speed dating

Speed dating (generic)
Speed dating involves racing through a series of "mini-dates"

Beauty may be skin deep, but looks count for everything at speed dating events, Edinburgh research suggests.

Humans searching for a partner seem to become more picky when they are in large groups - contrary to what is seen in the animal kingdom.

As a result, no amount of clever chat-up lines can make up for a lack of looks when speed dating.

For apes and birds, the chances of a non-contender being chosen as a mate increases as groups get larger.

Scientists, led by Dr Alison Lenton, from Edinburgh University, carried out a study to see if the same principle held true for speed-dating for people.

Speed dating involves groups of men and women racing through a series of "mini-dates" each lasting about five minutes.

Participants can then invite whoever takes their fancy to get in touch with them again.

When we have to make a quick decision like this, we don't have much else to go on - and that's because of our largely monogamous nature
Dr Alison Lenton
Edinburgh University

Researchers studied 118 speed dating sessions with groups of between seven and 36 people.

They were "surprised" to find as the size of the group grew, a small number of attractive individuals received all the offers. Less popular candidates ended up with few invitations or none at all.

Dr Lenton believes that in smaller groups, people trade off different qualities in prospective mates - physical attractiveness for intelligence, for example.

However, faced with too much choice, people resort to approaches such as choosing solely on looks.

New Scientist magazine reported: "When we have to make a quick decision like this, we don't have much else to go on and that's because of our largely monogamous nature.

"Monogamous species have fewer secondary sexual characteristics such as peacocks' colourful tail feathers."

Psychologist Professor David Perrett, from the St Andrews University in Scotland, cautioned that the study did not look at follow-up meetings.

"It gets at the mechanics of speed dating rather than of mate choice," he said.

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