One of the important ways in which 21Pictures differs from other dating sites is that you get to suss people out by looking at pictures of their lives, rather than by analysing written self-descriptions or lists of attributes. The aim is to encourage people to make intuitive judgements about who they might want to date, similar to how we do it in the "real" world.
Sometimes, though, intuitive judgements can lead us astray. Everyone sees the world through the lens of their own experiences and beliefs, and it’s easy to think that we've "got" someone based on a few scraps of information, such as how they look. We're great at fitting people into boxes. Often we get it right. But not always.
Psychologists call these tendencies to make rash assumptions “cognitive biases” or mental shortcuts. Daniel Kahneman, one of the experts in this field, defines them like this: “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”
For example, you might assume that a guy wearing a suit is a Tory voter, because the only people you know who wear suits happen to vote Tory (forgetting about all those besuited socialists out there who you’ve never met). The question you asked was "What's this guy like?"; the one you answered was "Who does he remind me of?"
Here are three of the most common cognitive biases that we use in everyday life. It might pay to be aware of them when you’re perusing your matches on 21Pictures:
If you’re interested in the psychology of perception, and specifically in why people are much harder to read than we imagine, you might want to check out a new book called No One Understands You And What to Do About It by Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist at Columbia Business School. She explains in a very accessible manner the biases that distort our perception of others, and how to be make yourself more knowable. Here’s a taster:
We don’t communicate nearly as much information as we think we do. When you say, “He knows what I meant” or “I made myself clear,” chances are, he doesn’t and you didn’t. Our faces are not nearly as expressive as we think they are; mild boredom can look an awful lot like mild interest or mild concern.
No one is an open book. But we can certainly learn to read people more accurately.