Traits that you look for in your would-be partner decoded

Attractive 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 said.

“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 Bulletin.