Finding Love? Don’t forget to seek purpose too

New study suggests sense of purpose can make you more attractive


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The world of online dating can be overwhelming with the dizzying array of options for attracting a partner. However, new research from Washington University in St. Louis shows that those looking for love may have more success if they also seek a sense of purpose in life.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, those whose profiles show a sense of purpose were rated higher on various scales for attractiveness compared with profiles that indicated no sense of purpose. The study, led by Isabella D’Ottone and Gabrielle Pfund, focused on four categories of “sense of purpose” and created four dating profiles to match each category, along with five control profiles that indicated no sense of purpose. The researchers set up a study with 119 participants who each read and ranked the nine fake profiles on various measures of attractiveness.

The four “purpose” categories were prosocial orientation, relationship orientation, financial orientation, and creative orientation. Prosocial means someone with goals related to helping others; relationship orientation means goals are centered around family and finding a romantic partner; financial orientation are goals related to financial security; and creative orientation are goals focused on creativity and originality.

In addition to rating the purpose-driven profiles higher than those lacking purpose, participants also rated profiles higher if they shared the same purpose orientation. For example, people with a creative purpose will be drawn to others with a creative focus, and so on.

This research could also be helpful in designing dating apps, according to Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences. The current roster of dating apps includes prompts and ice breakers to get conversations started, but sites could include a purpose-driven component to those prompts.

D’Ottone noted that this isn’t about faking a passion for something but, maybe finding love where you don’t expect it. Chasing a special someone may end with a mismatch, “but chasing your passions, you might find that person along the way,” she said.

The study builds on Pfund’s previous research on how a sense of purpose also aligns with maintaining better long-term relationships. The researchers found that having a direction in life is important when it comes to attraction.

“When it comes to attraction, knowing someone has a direction matters,” said Hill. “We actually seek out people with a purpose.”

Journal Reference

  1. D’Ottone, I.C., Pfund, G.N. & Hill, P.L. Purposeful Partners: Potential Relationship Quality and Sense of Purpose. Int J Appl Posit Psychol (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s41042-023-00136-z


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