October 17th, 2014
Stepping on a banana skin or spilling coffee over your shirt does not normally sound like something we would wish to happen in front of a potential lover. But if the one you are aiming for already fancies you a little, blundering might just be the perfect thing to do.
Dr. Elliot Aronson studied the effect of blunders on our likeability and found something he called the pratfall effect. It comes down to something we already know: perfect people are just scary.
In the most well known experiment Aronson conducted he lets subjects listen to interviews with students applying for a quiz show. Some applicants are nearly perfect, they answer almost every question correctly and have impressive cv’s . Others are somewhat mediocre, getting just 30 percent of the answers right and admitting having failed in earlier ambitions.
The subjects are asked whether they find the applicants competent and whether they find them attractive. Unsurprisingly, the nearly perfect applicant is judged more positively in both aspects. But when the interviews continues, something interesting happens.
The applicant blunders and pardons himself: ‘oh my goodness, I’ve spilled coffee all over my new suit’. Then Aronson again asks his subjects to rate competence and attractiveness. It is at this moment that we find out the world really is unfair.
The nearly perfect applicant, who is already being liked, is now rated even more attractive. While the poor mediocre blunderer only sees his chances shrinking. So, before you start acting clumsy, try to honestly guess how highly he or she already thinks of you.
Dr. Peter Salovey of Yale University gave an enjoyable lecture about the attractiveness of not being perfect:
Photo: Flickr, gazzman44
Aronson, E., Willerman, B. and Floyd, J. (1966) The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness, Psychonomic Science, 4, 227-8
Helmreich, Robert; Aronson, Elliot; LeFan, James (1970). To err is humanizing sometimes: Effects of self-esteem, competence, and a pratfall on interpersonal attraction Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/h0029848
pratfall effect, psychology love, interpersonal attraction research