Winning Hearts and Minds with these 2021 #BehavioralValentines

Regular readers might know that the behavioral science community takes Valentine’s Day seriously. Very seriously. Publicly-share-your-deepest-feelings-via-behavioral-principles seriously. 

For the past several years, the cleverest among us have eagerly awaited their opportunity to ask their crush to default to love, or suavely serenade their partners with poetry about how they’re not satisficing in this relationship. Beyond seeking the confirmation bias we so sorely crave each February that behavioral science and love are perfect Valentine sweethearts, we thought it worth pausing to think more deeply and systematically about how we can leverage our knowledge of human behavior to truly find (and maintain) a meaningful relationship. 

The suprising science that will help you find love

Thankfully for the lovelorn, now someone has done exactly that. Inspired by the newly released How to Not Die Alone, our annual #BehavioralValentines now feature more science about the science behind our favorite Valentine poems. We’ve paired grade-A Valentines with behavioral concepts that can help you with your love life, excerpted from sections of author Logan Ury’s new book. Each one illuminates the behavioral context behind each poem—perfect for readers who might be just falling in love with the world of applied behavioral science, or those of us simply looking for a new way to apply it in our own lives. 

Enjoy our 2021 cards, and as ever, don’t forget to tweet your best original #BehavioralValentines!

Something to bond over

“Look for a fun activity you can do with your date. Dan Ariely and a team of Harvard Business School researchers ran an experiment where they sent couples on virtual dates in an online setting designed to look like an art gallery. They hoped this setting would spark conversation, and it did. Participants chatted about the artwork and discovered common interests. The art functioned as a ‘third object,’ something both people could comment on. A third object takes the pressure off. It makes awkward silence a bit less awkward. If Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary or modern art sculptures of spiders aren’t your thing, don’t worry. It’s not about the art. Third objects can include books, games, and even other people.”

Be interested, not interesting

“Become a better conversationalist by learning to give support responses rather than shift responses. Sociologist Charles Derber identified a shift response as a moment in which you shift the focus of the conversation back to yourself. A support response, on the other hand, encourages the speaker to continue the story. For example, if your date says, “I’m going to Lake Michigan with my family in a few weeks,” a shift response would be: “Oh, I went there a few summers ago.” Even though, on the surface, you’re engaging with what your date has said, you’ve drawn the attention back to yourself. A support response might sound like “Have you been there before?” or “How did your family choose that location?” Support responses indicate that you’re invested in their story and want to hear more. They make your date feel appreciated and amplify the connection between the two of you.”

Default to a second date, instead of just one

“You can design defaults to help you make better decisions. Why not set a default that you’ll go on the second date? Not only will this help you avoid the brain’s natural tendency to focus on the negative, it will also help you look for that slow-burn person instead of seeking the spark. Of course, there are exceptions. But assume you’ll go out with someone a second time unless something dramatic happens to dissuade you. (Like that hypothetical person who shows up two hours late, smelling of lobster)…

The stakes here are pretty low. When you’re on a first date, you’re not looking to fill the position of life partner, you’re looking to decide whether or not you want a second date. That’s it. It’s better to go on a second or third date with somebody and then find out that they’re not a good fit than to rule out potential matches because of an initial impression that’s vulnerable to all types of cognitive biases.”

Think slow burn, not necessarily a spark

“The spark isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. It can be a useful signal that you’re attracted to someone. Plenty of good relationships start with the spark, but plenty of bad ones do, too. The important thing to remember is that its absence doesn’t predict failure, and its presence doesn’t guarantee success…

Stop using the spark as your first-date indicator. Stop optimizing for that exciting feeling and focus on what matters, like loyalty, kindness, and how the other person makes you feel…Ditch the spark and go for the slow burn—someone who may not be particularly charming upon your first meeting but would make a great long-term partner. Slow burns take time to warm up, but they’re worth the wait.”

For more Behavioral Valentines worthy of that special someone, check out our previous collections: