Speed Dating Project


For many people, having a satisfying romantic relationship is one of the most important aspects of life. Over the past 10 years, online dating websites have gained traction, and dating websites have access to large amounts of data that can be used to build predictive models to achieve this goal.

Such data is seldom public, but Columbia business school professors Ray Fisman and Sheena Iyengar compiled a rich and relevant data set for their paper Gender Differences in Mate Selection: Evidence From a Speed Dating Experiment, which they generously anonymized and shared.

I initially explored the data with a view toward predicting whether two people will want to see each other again. I gradually shifted toward focusing on understanding what the data tells us about human diversity. Following this line of thought ultimately facilitated the creation of a better predictive model, while having relevance extending beyond the context of speed dating.

My Findings

How subjective is attractiveness?

I quantified the extent to which there was a universal consensus on a participant’s relative attractiveness, finding that 60% of the variation in perceptions of relative attractiveness can be attributed to the group consensus while 40% was accounted for by individual idiosyncrasies of raters.

In tangible terms,  it only takes a few ratings of somebody’s relative attractiveness to be moderately confident that the person is generally perceived to be above or below average, but it’s also the case that almost all participants had at least one partner who perceived him or her to be noticeably above average, and at least one who had the opposite perception.

Correlations between perceptions on different dimensions

As one would expect based the Halo Effect , people who were viewed positively on one dimension were viewed positively on all dimensions.  But there were still (weak) well-defined group consensuses on a person’s relative ambition, intelligence and sincerity.

The role of attractiveness in mate selection: individual variation

On average, perceptions of attractiveness were very strongly predictive of how often people were interested in seeing someone again.

But there was also substantial variability on the weight that people gave to attractiveness when faced with the choice between attractiveness and personality traits such as intelligence and sincerity.

Whose decisions correlate most with partners’ attractiveness?

Somebody’s relative preference for attractiveness (as revealed through the person’s decisions) had a number of statistically significant correlates, including those pertaining to:

  • Career and field of study
  •  Perceptions by others
  •  Activities
  •  Race

I’m in the process of writing up this part of the results.


The code corresponding to the first two posts is on Github. I’ll be pushing the code for the remaining posts once I’ve tided it up.

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