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Decoded: Traits you look in your would- be partner

1Attractive and smart but unlucky in love? You may have your own

negative traits to blame rather than luck, new research suggests.

Researchers have found that when evaluating potential mates, people give

more weight to negative qualities than to positive ones.

Even if someone has a number of positive qualities, one or two negative

qualities can be enough for others to avoid pursuing romantic

relationships with them, researchers said.

The study that included researchers from the University of Florida in the

US examined the effect of relationship deal breakers on the formation of

romantic or sexual relationships to determine the value that people place

on them, in comparison to deal makers.

“We have a general tendency to attend more closely to negative

information than we do to positive information,” said Gregory Webster,

associate professor of psychology at University of Florida.

Using information from six independent studies, the researchers

determined the top deal breakers for people who were making decisions

about potential partners.

Using those deal breakers, they were able to determine what effect age

and gender have on determining which qualities are seen as deal breakers

for different people.

They also found that the effect of deal breakers is stronger for women and

people in committed relationships. Webster said it is important to note

that a deal breaker for one person may be a deal-maker for another.

For example, if a person is impulsive, some will be attracted to that

quality and think of it as a deal-maker, while others who prefer people

who are predictable may not look so kindly on that trait.

The researchers also evaluated deal breakers in non-romantic

relationships. The effect of negative traits in friendship is not as strong as

in romantic relationships, but some deal breakers, like dishonesty, are

avoided consistently in all situations, researchers said.

Although people typically think about potential mates in terms of their

positive traits, Webster said that is because people subconsciously weed

out those with undesirable traits from their pool of eligible mates, they


“A lot of times, just by avoiding negative traits, people will probably be

fairly well off – maybe even more well off – than if they were trying to

optimise the best potential partner,” Webster said.

The findings support adaptive attentional biases in human social

cognition, which suggests that focusing on the negative serves as a

survival function.

“Things that can harm are generally more important (to pay attention to)

than things that can help you,” Webster said.

The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology