Going on a roller coaster is the best first date.
Or even just going to an amusement park. Or going parasailing, or to a scary movie, or ziplining, or going on a hike to a super tall peak.
Basically, any context that produces fear is good for a first date. And that’s not just my opinion — interestingly, there is psychological evidence that this is true.
Psychologically speaking, fear is good for attraction. Put simply, fear is accompanied by arousal, and arousal facilitates attraction. So, if we can put ourselves in a position to experience arousal (or get others to experience arousal), that arousal can be interpreted outside of fear and attributed to available external stimuli, meaning that our arousal can be targeted towards the person we’re with — our date — and BOOM! Science has allowed us to feel attracted to each other.
If none of that made sense, allow me to break it down for you.
Let’s begin with how psychology began to recognize that fear was good for attraction. It began with two psychologists named Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron in 1974. Dutton and Aron theorized that depending on the situation, negative arousal (precipitated by fear) could be misinterpreted as positive arousal (such as attraction). To test their hypothesis, Dutton and Aron conducted an experiment: they would place an attractive woman in the middle of a bridge (on two different types of bridges) to advertise a psychology test to men passing by, then give them her phone number to see if they were interested in calling her. (And yes, this study is ABSOLUTELY heteronormative in assuming that the men would be automatically attracted to or compatible with the woman. Obviously, 1970s psychology was not caught up on LGBTQ culture. UGH.)
The woman would first stand on a suspension bridge with a high altitude, and next on a lower-altitude, flat bridge that didn’t produce a fear response. The study aimed to see if the men were more likely to call the woman after meeting her on the suspension bridge (where their arousal was high due to fear) or if they were more likely to call her on the normal bridge (where arousal was low). And sure enough, Dutton and Aron found that more men called the woman after meeting her on the suspension bridge. Basically, men were more likely to find the woman attractive in a fearful situation, on the suspense bridge, than under normal circumstances.
The explanation for this is simple: when we experience fear, our senses and our brains become extremely aroused. This doesn’t really mean sexual or romantic arousal; it just means we are on high alert, having rushes of adrenaline, or experiencing lots of excitement or anxiety. However, our brains are not used to having such high levels of arousal, especially in a situation of fear. More often than not, we’re unsure of how to respond to that arousal, and don’t have an efficient way to calm our brains down or eliminate it. Instead, our brains seek another piece of external stimuli that we can attribute our arousal to. And for the men on the suspension bridge — or a person on a first date in a scary setting — that piece of external stimuli was another person. The woman on the suspension bridge was in a very convenient spot, so when the men approached the middle of the suspension bridge and were experiencing high levels of arousal, the woman was right there and could become a place for them to direct their arousal, causing them to interpret that as attraction and, consequently, take her phone number and call her later after expressing interest.
On the normal bridge — the one that was frequented by locals and placed at a very non-scary altitude — Dutton and Aron did not see the same amount of men calling the woman’s phone number or taking interest after the study. Thus, they attributed this difference to the fact that arousal was exceedingly higher on the suspension bridge and led to the men perceiving that they were attracted to the woman on the bridge.
Obviously, there are a number of confounding variables that could be affecting the results of this study. Maybe the woman was wearing a bright or flattering color. Maybe there were coincidentally more heterosexual men crossing the suspense bridge than there were gay men, or vice versa on the normal bridge. There are countless possibilities, and this study may not be a straight-shoot answer to how to get someone to be attracted to you. But the fact still stands: we are more aroused when we are frightened. And that arousal has to be directed somewhere when our brains don’t know what to do with it.
So now, let’s bring it back to you and your hypothetical first date (you and your date can be of any gender). You guys are sitting on a rollercoaster together. Maybe your date is terrified of roller coasters but likes the thrill. When you guys hit the drop, your date is filled with fear. They scream and look over at you. That arousal is transferred over to the available piece of external stimuli — you — and interpreted by your date as a powerful attraction.
The same goes for scary movies. That dumb character opens the door to a zombie covered in blood? Maybe your date gets freaked out and turns over to bury their face in your shoulder or look for a hug. Their fear becomes interpreted as attraction when they see you.
The same could go for a hike to a super high cliff, or a parasailing trip over the ocean. Regardless of the context, fear gives us the availability to interpret our arousal in different ways.
Interesting, right? Although a little unexpected. And a tiny bit creepy that fear could one day lead us towards love.
So, where are you going to go on your next first date?
Don’t be shy…ride a rollercoaster!
Previously published on medium
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