When considering someone as a potential romantic partner, most people give more weight to negative qualities than to positive ones.
In other words, even if someone has a number of positive qualities, one or two negative ones may be enough to give the relationship a thumbs down.
For a new study, researchers looked at the effect of relationship deal breakers on the formation of romantic or sexual relationships to see what value people placed on them, in comparison to deal makers.
“We have a general tendency to attend more closely to negative information than we do to positive information,” says Gregory Webster, associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
Using information from six independent studies, the researchers determined the top deal breakers for people who were making decisions about potential partners. Using those deal breakers, they were able to determine what effect age and gender have on determining which qualities are seen as deal breakers for different people.
The deal breakers, in no particular order, are:
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Undesirable personality traits
- Differing religious beliefs
- Limited social status
- Different mating strategies
- Different relationship goals
Further, the study shows that effect of deal breakers is stronger for women and people in committed relationships. It’s important to note that a deal breaker for one person may be a dealmaker for another, Webster says.
For example, if a person is impulsive, some will be attracted to that quality and think of it as a deal maker, But others who prefer people who are predictable may not look so kindly on that trait.
The researchers also evaluated deal breakers in non-romantic relationships. The effect of negative traits in friendship is not as strong as in romantic relationships, but some deal breakers, like dishonesty, are avoided consistently in all situations.
Although people typically think about potential mates in terms of their positive traits, that’s because people subconsciously weed out those with undesirable traits from their pool of eligible mates.
“A lot of times, just by avoiding negative traits, people will probably be fairly well off—maybe even more well off—than if they were trying to optimize the best potential partner,” Webster says.
The findings support adaptive attentional biases in human social cognition, which suggests that focusing on the negative can serve as a survival function, Webster says.
“Things that can harm are generally more important [to pay attention to] than things that can help you.”
The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Researchers from Rutgers University, Indiana University, Western Sydney University, and Singapore Management University are coauthors of the study.
Source: University of Florida