Several studies have looked at how different situations affect a person’s perception of time, and most have found that the more cognitive processing required on a task, the slower time passes. For this reason, researchers have long suspected that processing attraction to a potential partner can also influence time perception.
The Frontiers study used a speed dating experiment to determine the effect of attraction on time perception. In collaboration with a sample of 37 volunteers – 18 women and 19 men – they distributed pre- and post-appointment questionnaires, which provided an overview of their commitment to their appointment. You are then asked to estimate the length of the date yourself.
When a woman is attracted to someone, her perception of time slows down.
The team found that when compared to dates they found interesting before and after a date, women tended to overestimate the amount of time they spent together. This showed researchers that women’s perception of time slows down when they are attracted to someone.
“When a woman perceives a potential partner as physically attractive, she looks to some of the other characteristics of the man to make decisions (e.g. economic resources and intelligence) and allocates a lot of mental resources in assessing the estimated duration of extended appointments. ,” explained the team.
For men, time flies when you are having fun.
While researchers have found that women’s time perception slows down when faced with an attractive partner, they’ve found that men’s time perception accelerates. They attributed the difference to women processing more information than men when dating. “Men tend to be less picky than women and may be attracted to potential partners because of their physical attractiveness,” the team concludes.
They also found some truth in the old adage that “time flies when you’re having fun” – at least for men. Those who were most “attracted and motivated” by potential partners underestimated the duration of the date more consistently. Mentally less stressed, consciously or unconsciously valuing their date as a long-term perspective, they reported that time passed faster.
The difference is evolutionary, say experts.
To explain the gender differences they observed, the researchers cited a 1972 theory by evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist Robert Trivers. The so-called “parental investment theory” predicts that the sex that invests more in offspring will be more selective in mate choice and the sex that invests less will have intrasexual competition for access to a partner. “According to this theory, women are more likely to have an evolutionary incentive to choose a quality partner for reproductive reasons, making them ‘the more investing sex’.
Of course, as with any dating model, there will be many women and men who resist the trend. However, it’s a good reminder that your perception of a first date is highly subjective and likely shaped by your own motivations – even more so if you’re attracted to them.