How to use your nerves to have the perfect first date



By Steve Carter

Over the years, our attitudes toward relationships may change, the way we date people may evolve, but nothing takes away the overwhelming feeling of a first date. Unfortunately, in most cases this is our one chance to get it right, and that pressure can be acute.

But, there are ways to think yourself to success on that all-important first date. So, rather than resorting to Dutch courage, here are some clues from social psychology to give you the first date confidence you need.

Harnessing those nerves

William James was part of the first wave of psychologists when it was a relatively new science. He theorised that when our bodies experience some stimulus, our nervous system has a physiological reaction – such as increased heart rate or sweating. Our brains then interpret these reactions to create emotion. For example, imagine you see a lion. Scary. Your body pumps adrenaline causing your heart to race and ready your muscles for flight. Then your brain kicks in and tells your body to get running.

Scary experience = sexual attraction

Researchers since James have shown that the brain’s reactions can be before and after physical reactions. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss his ideas entirely. In fact, several studies have shown that the rush we get from experiences such as going on a roller-coaster or watching a scary movie can lead to feelings of sexual attraction. A fascinating study by Dutton and Aron (1974), found that men who were approached by a female researcher on a high, unsteady bridge were more likely to pursue the researcher for a date than those approached on a lower, safer looking bridge.

It’s not just bridges that promote amorousness. Meston and Frolich (2003) asked men and women to rate the attractiveness of photographs before and after riding a rollercoaster. True to form, those asked afterwards rated pictures significantly higher than those before.

Dates with a difference

So, when you’re getting nervous about your first date, look on the positive side that your senses will be heightened! And for an added rush, try and plan dates that get the adrenaline going, such as visiting a theme park or playing a game of squash. As we’ve seen above, things that make the heart beat cam also make it melt.

Dutton and Aron (1974)
Meston and Frohlich (2003)

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