Who originally thought of this dating-related experiment?
May 20, 2013 10:26 PM   Subscribe

Write the numbers 1 to 20 on a set of cards, one per card but two cards of each number, put them on the foreheads of a group of twenty men and twenty women, and give them a couple minutes to try to pair up with the person of the opposite sex with the highest-ranked card: they will always end up with someone close to their own rank. Who originally thought of this?

I'm interested in details about the origin of this and any similar or related experiments and I couldn't find anything after a couple search attempts. I originally read it under the "Cut the Bull: What is "Dating"?" section on this page:


Note: I realize that the experiment as described here is a bit flawed since you could quickly figure out your number by elimination. Though that's closer still to reality when it comes to actual dating, for the purposes of the experiment you could easily fix this by using larger groups and slightly random numbers, e.g. 1-50 but where each number is sometimes off by one.
posted by renovatio1 to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I don't know if this is where it originated, but: The Science of Sex Appeal (5:25).
posted by taupe at 10:52 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It kind of sounds like a garbled, nonsensical misunderstanding of some of Lloyd Shapley's work, but that kind of Telephone Game happens a lot among people who write websites like this.
posted by jeb at 10:55 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Note: I realize that the experiment as described here is a bit flawed since you could quickly figure out your number by elimination.

It's also flawed as a metaphor for dating, because people are not an ordered set.
posted by empath at 11:57 PM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's an explanatory simulation for how assortative mating works, designed for pedagogical purposes by Bruce Ellis, as cited on page 305 of the 1993 edition of Matt Ridley's book The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature.

Note that assortative mating is less about absolute ranking, per se, and more about matching traits (phenotypic similarity). The Ellis simulation simplifies it by using one number to represent many traits.
posted by orthogonality at 2:47 AM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is a variation on a ridiculous sounding story I was told about Psychology undergradutes. The story goes that in order to illustrate a theory that people are attracted to others of similar levels of attractiveness a professor involved his class in an activity. Each individual was given a score for attractivenes which they did not know. The group were then told to mingle and pair up with the ones they felt mutually attracted with. Once all the pairs had formed the scores were revealed and showed that the pairs that had formed had closely matching scores. I have tried to root out a source unsuccesfully.
posted by BenPens at 4:53 AM on May 21, 2013

I don't know who came up with the dating experiment, but this is related to a mathematics problem called the Stable Marriage Problem (sometimes called the stable matching problem)

The idea is that any time you have two equally sized sets of people who all have preferences about the other set (like straight men/women or medical students and residency positions), you can marry everyone off so that nobody will "cheat" on each other (so there is no couple who would rather have each other than their current partners)

So it's not so much a dating experiment as a mathematics experiment, actually =) The people are actually trying to get themselves to a stable marriage!

And in fact since everybody has the same idea of what people are 'best', if you gave the people enough time and ability to look around then everybody would end up with someone with the exactly the same number as them!

If you changed the numbers, people would still end up with someone with the same ranking as them. This is assuming that everyone can see all the other people and only makes rational decisions, of course :)
posted by oranger at 5:32 AM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the excellent answers! I'm going through the various sources you guys have pointed out and will add anything related that I may come across.
posted by renovatio1 at 11:27 AM on July 15, 2013

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