Romantic advice from scientists


For Valentine's Day, science blogger Jason Goldman has collected seven thematic studies that offer some surprising ways to woo your intended sweetie.

Naturally, there are caveats. For one thing, few of these studies do a very good job of replicating the situations and environments natural to Western human mating rituals. Filling out a survey is rather different from making out in a dark corner. Also, being individual studies, without the weight of repeat confirmation by other researchers, following Goldman's advice may, or may not, turn out to be a terrible idea. But it is certainly entertaining. And if you have nothing to lose, then what the heck, right? Think of these suggestions as a science-inspired version of The Naked Man.

Here's another very simple tip for the ladies: frighten him. No, seriously. In 1974, University of British Columbia psychologists were studying human attraction using two bridges that crossed a local river. One bridge was solid, allowed firm footing, and was made of heavy cedar. It was only ten feet above the river, and had steady handrails. The other bridge was a five-foot-wide, 450-foot-long suspension bridge made of wire cables threaded through the ends of wooden boards. It would tilt, sway, and wobble as people tried to cross, 230 feet above the river.

Men who had just crossed one of the bridges were approached by an attractive female experimenter who asked them to complete several questionnaires. The men who had crossed the anxiety-inducing suspension bridge were more likely to attempt further contact with the experimenter than were the men who had crossed the stable bridge. The researchers suggest that it's as if the men misunderstood their anxiety-induced physiological arousal - elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and so on - interpreting it as sexual attraction and desire.

Moral of the story: scare the crap out of him and he might just make a move.

The Guardian: Valentine's Day Dating Tips from Lovestruck Scientists

Image: Some rights reserved by Oscar E.


  1. I wonder how much of that behavior after crossing the bridge was along the lines of “hell, I just tempted fate crossing that bridge, why not make a day of it?”

    1. That was exactly my thought. If asking someone out makes you nervous, and you just did something far more nerve-wracking, talking to the girl won’t seem so imposing. I’m not so sure it’s a ‘rush of sexual endorphins’ as much as just a lowering of inhibitions due to succeeding a tough task.

  2. … or maybe they were thinking, “hell, I just did something really brave! Maybe that girl will think I’m brave and sexy!”

    Normally I hate it when we in the peanut gallery instinctively second-guess researchers conclusions, but that conclusion seemed like a much bigger, and unwarranted, leap of faith.

    If the woman with the questionnaire had been the one to scare the man (jumping out and shouting boo?), would the results have been the same?

  3. Filling out a survey is rather different from making out in a dark corner.

    You’ve obviously never taken one of my famous surveys. And since those uptight prudes in the sociology department denied me tenure, I guess you never will.

  4. The fear factor has an anecdotal analogue! It well known that exposure to combat causes large increases in libido in both men and women. Apparently when death is near, there’s a powerful urge to get busy. So the rickety bridge story makes a lot of sense… It would seem likely that this is the same mechanism as post-combat lust.

  5. Well, I’ve always said that Valentine’s Day would be better if it were more like Halloween. Perhaps this is Step 1.

  6. These reports are entertaining, but the *comments* section in The Guardian’s site are priceless! Thanks for the laughs – I’m so glad I’m not currently in need of any of these methods!

  7. @SamSam (#3): This experiment was of course just one of a set of experiments in the paper that I linked. Taken together, the experiments provide support for the conclusion. If you’d like a copy of it to read for yourself, email me (you can grab my email from my blog) and I’ll happily send it along.

  8. I don’t suppose it occurred to anyone that these men who crossed the higher, less stable bridge had higher levels of testosterone from the endeavor, huh?

Comments are closed.