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Five Tips on How to Have the Perfect First Date (According to Science)

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Leigh believes that pets should receive adequate enrichment in their day-to-day routine to keep them healthy and happy.

Need some scientific first date tips?

Need some scientific first date tips?

1. Get Their Blood Pumping

Think about how you felt when you had your first crush. Your body does some weird things, like excessive sweating, shaking, and the all too familiar "butterflies in your stomach" syndrome. And how could we forget about those racing thoughts and that bubbly outlook on life? Now I want you to remember how you felt after your first roller coaster ride. Hmmmm...pretty much the same, right?

Unfortunately, roller coasters aren't love machines, but they're pretty close. Science says that the feeling of "falling in love" and the fear response are physiologically very similar. In fact, your body can't tell them apart! You want proof? One study had couples meet on a wobbly rope bridge, while other couples met on solid ground. Those that met on the bridge rated each other as more attractive on average than those who met on the boring old stable surface. When couples do adrenaline-increasing activities together, the fear response is confused by the body as a love response. Those feelings are then projected onto each other.

The take away message is to opt-out of a romantic dinner. Instead, a theme park or even a scary movie is more likely to make your date feel those love butterflies.

Josef Abel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Josef Abel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Wear The Right Clothing

How do you want to present yourself? Cool and confident? Happy and carefree? Science says that our clothes play a big part in how other people see us. The color of clothing, in particular, has been shown to give people different first impressions.

To the gals: Women who wear the color red are perceived as being more attractive than those who wear less fiery clothing. No wonder we all love Katniss! However, if you're looking for a more conservative style, women who wear cooler colors are seen as more feminine, while women who wear dark colors are more likely to be assigned traits like "tough," "bold," and "competent."

To the guys: If you want to project an image of strength and power, opt for a darker attire. Men who wear dark clothing are more likely to be assigned traditionally masculine traits. Hello, tall, dark, and handsome! On the other hand, men who wear lighter clothing are likely to be perceived as calm, easygoing, and fun.

Don't forget to wear an outfit that is comfortable! Studies show that physical comfort is positively correlated with self-confidence. In other words, the more comfortable you are, the less likely you'll do something embarrassing like faint with excitement about having a date.

http://See page for author [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

http://See page for author [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Keep It Cool

Literally, science says that cooler temperatures seem to induce feelings of love rather than warmer temperatures. So much for fun in the sun!

One study shows that when people are cold, they are more likely to enjoy romantic movies. It is hypothesized that physical coldness activates a need for psychological warmth. Basically, your mind decides that because your body is cold, it'll do something to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Options include watching cat videos or falling in love. A second benefit is that "love feelings" work to keep you physically warm as well. The physiological effects of liking someone includes your heart racing, your face flushing, and your breathing rate increasing. All of these things make your body move more, generating heat.

Skip out on warmer venues and try out something cool, like ice skating. Even turning the temperature down a few degrees during a movie night might turn up the heat on your date.

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4. Smell Nice

While smelling nice seems to be an obvious tip for a first day, you might not realize the full importance of perfume.

Science says that people are rated at a higher attractiveness level when the judge is smelling perfume. Although this effect wasn't as large for very beautiful and very ugly people (the visual cues outweighed the cues given by the perfume), the average person can improve their looks by improving their smell.

When people are exposed to different olfactory cues (in other words, smells), certain pathways in the brain light up. The scents are associated with the objects around you and your emotions at the time of smelling. That's why if you see an object that you've smelled before, you can anticipate its scent. Seeing dog dung on the ground that was left by an irresponsible owner will leave you expecting that it'll smell horrible. On the other hand, an advertisement on tv showing a delicious cheeseburger tricks your brain into assuming it smells like all of the other delicious cheeseburgers you've eaten. This phenomenon also works in reverse. A smell will make you anticipate what you've previously experienced with it. Let's say your gym teacher was an onion-eating jerk who wasn't big on hygiene. Getting a whiff later in life of an onion/B.O. combo may give you flashbacks of all the times he made you run laps. Because you have that association, you won't just think the smell is bad. You'll think of the pain you felt when your legs started cramping up. This may lead to your brain mimicking how you were feeling back in gym class during those fateful high school days. For example, you may begin to feel anger, fear, and resentment. The most interesting part about all this is that in the present moment, you're unlikely to understand why you just got angry. The nice, albeit unwashed man selling onions to you in the present-day, might get a dose of your anger, all because your brain tricked you. Of course, you don't want to make your date pissed (at least, I hope not). Luckily, your brain performs this little emotional magic trick with nicer feelings too.

Perfume companies are very good at coming up with scent combinations that will make the average person's brain associate the wearer with pleasant emotions. However, you don't want this to be a pleasant date. You want it to be a perfect date. The problem is scent preferences are highly personalized. You'd literally have to know a person's life story in order to predict how they'll react to combinations of certain smells. Assuming that you haven't stalked this person their whole life, you probably won't know too much about the emotions they have linked with scents. However, if you know general things about them you may be able to take a pretty decent guess on what scent to wear. Do they like the outdoors? A woodsy scent may be a good idea. Were they more timid to accept the date? Simple calming smells like lavender may be in order. On the other hand, if this is a blind date, you should choose a more complex and adventurous smell.

The good news is science knows which smells the general public will prefer. People are more likely to enjoy smells that they can easily identify. Vanilla is almost universally liked because it is so distinct. Another good rule of thumb is to pick smells that most people associate with romance, such as chocolate, cardamom, and ginger.

One thing to remember is that you don't have to pick one scent. Perfumes and colognes are carefully concocted blends. Once you know the smells you're going for, you may have to do a bit of research on which products have the mix you want.

If all else fails, you can always use the scent that has been described as "the ideal erogenous perfume" by several studies: Shalimar.

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5. Say Cheese

So far you know what kinds of activities you should do, where you should do them, what to wear, and what you should smell like in order to create the perfect date. What you haven't learned is the most important ingredient: how to act.

The simple answer is to have fun. Science says that smiling releases pleasure hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Not only that, but just looking at someone's smile also releases these same hormones. Your brain literally rewards you for making another person smile.

Back in the day, humans needed to work together to survive. These strong social bonds were developed through the use of non-verbal cues. Of course, verbal cues played a significant part in bonding as well. Smiling just helps cement and reassure the truth of spoken communication. Unless you're a car salesman or a politician, it's a lot harder to lie while smiling in someone's face. By mimicking another person's "trustworthy" facial expression, you create a bond together. Connections increase the chances of working successfully together, which in turn increases the chances of survival.

People who were shown pictures of people smiling tended to assign them the characteristics of fun, reliability, and excitement. Happy-looking people were also more liking to be rated as attractive.

So no matter what you do, remember to put a smile on your face. What's the point of a date if you're not having fun?

References

  • Baron, R. (1981) Olfaction and human social behavior: effects of a pleasant scent on attraction and social perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 7:611
  • Billings, A., Moos, R. (2007). Work stress and the stress-buffering roles of work and family resources. Journal of Organizational Behavior, vol. 3 issue 3, pages 215–232
  • Briese, E. (1995). Emotional hyperthermia and performance in humans. Physiology and Behavior, vol. 58 issue 3, pages 615-618
  • Brown, W.M., Moore, C. (2002). Smile asymmetries and reputation as reliable indicators of likelihood to cooperate: An evolutionary analysis. In S.P. Shohov (Ed.) Advances in Psychology Research, vol 11, 59-78.
  • Chebat, J., Michon, R. (2003). Impact of ambient odors on mall shoppers' emotions, cognition, and spending: A test of competitive causal theories. Journal of Business Research, vol. 56 issue 7, pages 529-539
  • Damhorst, M., Reed, A. (1986). Clothing color value and facial expression: effects of evaluations of female job applications. Social Behavior & Personality: an international journal, Vol. 14 Issue 1, p89 10p.
  • Dematte, M., Osterbauer, R., Spence, C. (2007). Olfactory cues modulate facial attractiveness. Chemical Senses, vol. 32 issue 6, pages 603-610
  • Hong,J., Sun, Y. (2012). Warm it up with love: the effect of physical coldness on liking of romance movies. Journal of Consumer Research vol 39, no. 2
  • Matilda, A., Wirtz, J. (2001). Congruency of scent and music as a driver of in-store evaluations and behavior. Journal of Retailing, vol. 77 issue 2, pages 273-289
  • Stevenson, S. (2012). There's magic in your smile. Psychology Today

© 2014 Leigh

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