Say This on a First Date…It’s Science


By Todd A. Ward, PhD

Founding Editor, recently discussed five scientifically-supported ways to increase the likelihood of a successful first date — measured in terms of followup dates, self-report of connection felt during the date, and, yes, the probability of hooking up.

Let’s get right to it:

1) Talk Travel, Not Movies: The probability of a second date doubles if you talk about travel rather than movies.  The rationale was “the conversations about travel tended to revolve around great holidays and dream destinations, and that makes people feel good and so appear more attractive.”

2) How You Talk:  In other words, keep the conversation flowing smoothly.  You don’t want to dominate the entire conversation with stories about you the whole time, but you don’t want the reverse either.  Keep passing the ball back and forth and show a genuine interest in what your partner is saying.

3) Share Secrets:  Sharing secrets creates emotional connections with your partner, including feelings of connectedness.  Research has found particular questions can guide the conversation into places that create particularly strong emotional connections…in some cases stronger than a lifelong friendship.

4) Discuss Controversial Topics:  This might sound risky, but research shows that doing so typically makes for a more enjoyable experience.  Researchers found “when people are free to choose what type of discussions they want to have, they often gravitate toward an equilibrium that is easy to maintain but one that no one really enjoys or benefits from.”  

5) Enjoy Beer:  The question of “do you like the taste of beer?” is the best predictor of hooking up on the first date, according to OkCupid.  In fact, “no matter their gender or orientation, beer-lovers are 60% more likely to be okay with sleeping with someone they’ve just met.”

From the standpoint of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), two people are engaged in a social episode that may or may not occur again.  The probability of recurrence is a testament to how reinforcing the initial encounter was.  

So what makes interpersonal encounters reinforcing?  You have to relate to each other.  In other words, the things you say have to resonate with your partner such that your words evoke an interested response that keeps things enthusiastically moving along for both parties.

There are a few different angles of attack here from the behavioral literature:

First, check out the Valentine’s Day bSci21 article titled “How to Fall in Love, Behaviorally” which discusses how to make yourself reinforcing to your partner.  

Second, the concept of “social episodes” as discussed above originated with Skinner (1953) in Science & Human Behavior.  He actually discussed two types.  Of course, in Verbal Behavior, he has many depictions of verbal interchanges that are highly related to the concept of social episodes.  Parrot (1982) has a different take on social episodes informed by J.R. Kantor’s Interbehaviorism (see the bSci21 article titled “Radical Behaviorism ain’t the only game in town.“).  

Lastly, we must touch on the so-called “post-Skinnerian” account of language and cognition offered by Relational Frame Theory.  The dominant theme in the five points above centers on creating connections, or areas of overlapping repertoires.  The above conversational practices are ways to probe your partners repertoire via verbal relations.  The classic book in this area is the “purple book” titled “Relational Frame Theory” and a more recent, and more accessible “Learning RFT.”

Do you think these tactics would work on a first date?  Let us know in the comments below and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns and  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at [email protected].

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