Deal-Breakers and Deal-Makers: A Cognitively Plausible Model of Mate Choice

Elizabeth E. Bruch, University of Michigan
Kee Yeun Lee, University of Michigan
Fred Feinberg, University of Michigan

We present a statistical model of mate choice behavior that draws on insights from decision theory, marketing research, and cognitive science. The model assumes an actor with partial information, uncertainty about the most desirable outcome, and difficulty comparing more than a handful of alternatives based on a small number of attributes. The substantive application is mate choice, as observed on an online dating site. This work makes several contributions. From a theoretical standpoint, we lay the groundwork for a model of individual action that is empirically plausible, statistically tractable, and amenable to analytic research. With regard to our substantive application, mate choice, our model allows for a far more nuanced account of mate preferences and mate search strategies than has been possible in the past. Methodologically, this study represents a first effort to develop a statistical framework for harnessing the detailed, observational online activity data increasingly available for social research to better understand how people make decisions.

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Presented in Session 66: Digital Records for Demographic Research