Tuesday, May 30, 2006

the 9% solution

If the roads to love are so varied and random, how do we decide on a particular mate? It turns out that the problem of choice under uncertainty can be described and solved mathematically. Evolutionary psychologists Peter Todd at Indiana University and Geoffrey Miller at the University of New Mexico used a computer simulation to determine how a person might best choose from a number of potential partners. They set it up so that the person first assesses a number of the options available to them to decide what is the best they can aspire to in terms of attractiveness. They then go for the next person they come across who meets their aspirations, out of those they haven’t already encountered.

The researchers found that the optimum proportion of possible mates to “examine” before setting your aspirations and making your choice is a mere 9% — so at a party with 100 possible mates, it’s best to study only the first nine you randomly encounter before you choose. Examining fewer means you won’t have enough information to make a good choice, examining more makes it likely you’ll pass the best mate by. No doubt the models underestimate the complexity of real mate choice, but the fundamental insight is clear: don’t search indefinitely before choosing, lest you miss out on all the good mates or run out of time altogether.
From Sexual Attraction: The Magic Formula in the Times of London.

Um...how do you know when you’ve got your initial dataset nailed down? Otherwise, how you can be sure that your subset is a true 9%? (It's not that I'm looking; it's just that I’m wondering...)

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