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Gender and Personality: Differences in Date Initiation Preferences- Eric Shumaker

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Palms sweaty, heart racing, body trembling, and butterflies in your stomach. What does this describe? Think back to the first time you asked out someone you liked. These uncomfortable symptoms may be reminiscent of your first experience with attempting to initiate a date. How could gender and personality factors play a role in the way heterosexual humans initiate dating behaviors with the opposite sex? What sort of unique interpersonal communication behaviors do people utilize in initiating a date?

One of the top concerns of college students has always been interactions with the opposite sex and dating (Martinson & Zerface, 1990). A survey of college students by McEwan (1983), pressing personal concerns, indicated that 16% view the area of dating as the chief concern in their life over things such as grades and finances. Although this is not a large percentage, it is important to research interpersonal dating and find effective solutions for those struggling with dating-related anxiety. As sex roles and culture continually change, Muehlenhard and McFall (1981) proposed that men and women are often left confused on how to initiate and arrange first dates. Research in this area has the potential to assist social skills trainers, dating coaches, and counselors with how to give effective solutions to those clients struggling in this area of their lives. This research expansion will aid those that lack social skills known to assist in dating to help them better understand how they should approach someone they are attracted to.

Past Research

Clark, Shaver, and Abrahams (1999) surveyed 301 undergrads on their strategies for date initiation. The most commonly reported were: talking in person (and over the phone), touching the partner, and asking directly. On the other hand, joking, game playing, and dressing up were the least frequently used. The survey also asked students to reveal their most common goals for initiating the date and the large majority reported they were seeking love and intimacy – and most commonly used direct strategies to reach that goal. However, a small portion of the sample (1/5) sought solely sexual intimacy and used indirect or manipulative strategies to reach that goal. When looking at specific gender differences in date-initiation strategies, men were most likely to initiate a relationship using direct tactics and more confident and motivated to do so. Both sexes described men as taking a very active role in the date-initiation. Like so, not surprisingly, women reported taking a less direct approach to relationship initiation than did men. Women were less direct, less motivated, and less likely to initiate a relationship with a particular available partner than were men. They also reported being more concerned about the risk of an unsuccessful initiation attempt.

Although men still tend to initiate dates more than women, date initiation by women is still fairly common. In a study of college-aged female date initiators by Mongeau, Hale, Johnson, and Hillis (1993) it was found that 90% of men had been asked out on a date by a woman and a shocking 83% of those for a first date. Most men reported accepting these dates initiated by women. The men also reported the woman’s assertiveness as a positive thing. In Mongeau & Carey’s (1996) follow-up study, they found what sort of personality characteristics men perceive in women who initiate dates. They most frequently saw woman-initiators as liberal, open, active, and extroverted. An odd finding, however, was that those men saw the initiating women as less physically attractive than their non-initiating counterparts. Additionally, men had higher sexual expectations on female-initiated dates; however it was found that these dates actually had less intimacy and sexual activity. The authors hypothesized that this unrealistic inflation of sexual expectancy was because the women-initiators were perceived as more open, liberal, and extroverted.

Men’s reactions to date initiation approaches by women has also been studied. Muehlenhard and McFall (1981) identified the “initiation-preference factor” examining whether males preferred females to ask them on a date directly, hint indirectly at it, or wait to be asked.

They also developed the construct of the “liking factor”– meaning males should subjectively categorize the hypothetical females in the experiment as one that they wanted to date, liked as a person, held an indifferent view towards, or simply disliked. Results of Muehlenhard and McFall (1981), as well as Muehlenhard and Miller’s (1988) experiment, indicate that the level of like or dislike towards a prospective mate is very influential on what dating initiation method they prefer. If a man liked and had an interest in dating a woman, either asking or hinting was found to be effective. If he felt indifferent and/or liked her as a person, asking seemed to be more effective than hinting. For women he disliked, no initiation method was useful. The authors also found that the more a man liked a woman, the more pleased he would be in the long run that she had asked or hinted at him and the less pleased he would be if she waited. If the man does not indicate any liking or attraction towards the woman, then chances of getting a date with him are slim no matter the initiation method. Therefore, the authors concluded that the old stereotype that men prefer women that play “hard-to-get” or passively wait for them to take action was discredited. Overall, if a woman takes the initiative in initiating a date, the man will accept if he likes her and will not accept if he does not like her, independent of whether he generally prefers women to ask or hint. Thus, if she wants to date him and is willing to face rejection, she has virtually nothing to lose by taking the initiative.

One area of date initiation preferences that has not been researched is personality factors. Costa and McCrae (1992) described extroversion as possessing the qualities of “gregariousness, warmth, assertiveness, activity, intimacy, excitement seeking, and positive affect”. Eysenck’s (1981) theory of extroversion suggests that extroverts are chronically under-aroused (in comparison with introverts). Because of this, they seek the stimulation and pleasure that social situations bring. Recent studies also confirm the belief that positive affect and higher levels of self-esteem are associated with extroversion (Swickert, Hittner, Kitos, & Cox-Fuenzalida, 2004). On the contrary, introverts have a tendency to initiate less and generally withdraw from social situations, tend to be more shy and reserved, and are more inwardly-focused (Buss & Plomin, 1984). Date initiation is, in and of itself, an assertive communicative act designed to provide a context where the couple can get to know each other better and increase the intimacy of their relationship. So although introverts may have a strong desire to date, I predict their fear of social situations may prevent them from meetings and interacting with potential dating partners.

Theoretical Framework

Much previous research on date initiation has lacked a strong theoretical framework to explain the phenomenon. I seek to apply several human communication theories that may explain how and why people initiate dates the way they do. First, Berger (1975) developed the uncertainty reduction theory which states that the driving force in initial encounters is obtaining information about the other person to get to know him/her better and ultimately to reduce uncertainty. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty and will therefore be motivated to gain information so as to better predict and explain our partner’s behavior. Berger argued that we have to get to know a person better if we want to “reduce uncertainty, increase predictability, and create order in our world.” As others tell us about themselves, we feel more confident in our ability to predict how they think and act and as a result we feel more comfortable in the interaction. People can reduce uncertainty using a number of different strategies. One is the interactive strategy in which we ask questions directly in face-to-face communication. This method offers the most direct way of acquiring information but also furnish the most face threat. It could violate social norms, appear pushy, or offend the target person within conversation.

Another theory, derived from Uncertainty Reduction Theory, is Predicted Outcome Value Theory which also focuses on initial interaction. Sunnarank (1986) said that people are not driven by a need to reduce uncertainty in all cases. Instead, whether we seek more information depends on whether outcome values are positive or negative. “Outcome values” relate to our predictions about how rewarding or unrewarding future interactions with a particular person would be. When outcome values are positive we are motivated to seek information and when they are negative we will decrease communication and stop seeking information.

Deborah Tannen claims, in her best-selling book You Just Don’t Understand, that men’s verbal communication is often more direct or overt than women’s. That is, men are more willing and more likely to initiate relationships than women, often by verbally requesting dates.

Psychological masculinity and femininity, usually viewed as results of sex-role socialization, have been shown to be more powerful predictors than biological sex of the use of direct and indirect communication acts.

The Current Study

This study seeks to further test previous findings in order to understand which dating initiation strategies men and women, as well as extroverts and introverts, prefer to use or have used on them. Although evidence suggests more males are developing an increased positive stance towards women initiating and paying for dates (Allgeier, 1981), prior research has focused exclusively on researching men’s dating initiation preferences as information for single women to use. This study will clarify the already published literature on men’s initiation preferences and add new constructs of women’s preferences, as well as introvert and extrovert preferences. The concepts and theories utilized in this unique communication phenomenon shall draw from the current scholarly research in Interpersonal Communication, Relational Communication, and Gender Communication. Interpersonal Communication scholars study the dynamics of how people interact face-to-face. Relational Communication also serves as a good source of research on how and why we form relationships with others. The study of these particular acts of human communication will better help us understand how dating initiation between individuals occurs. Many of the feminist perspectives taught in Gender Communication will also be taken into consideration; it is important to note the differences in how women and men communicate with each other, as well as how masculinity and femininity in society may affect the formation of relationships.

In the context of this experiment, sex shall refer to one’s biological make-up of male or female. Levels of extroversion will be defined as one’s outgoingness and enjoyment of social situations. Finally, preference of “dating initiation tactic” shall be gauged using Muehlenhard and Miller’s (1988) Dating-Initiation Questionnaire, including six actions from three categories: a) ask directly, b) hint indirectly, and c) take no action and wait. The six actions are: 1) asking him/her to a party, 2) asking him/her to have lunch, 3) asking him/her to a concert, 4) hinting there will be a movie on campus to see, 5) hinting that he/she has no plans for the weekend, and 6) waiting for him/her to ask.


Three major questions and hypotheses shall be examined in this research: First, I predict that Muehlenhard and McFall’s (1981) findings that men like to be asked on a date directly or indirectly will still hold true with today’s student population (Hypothesis 1). Secondly, I predict

that since women have previously reported using indirect means of date initiation they will prefer indirect tactics most (Hypothesis 2). Women may see more negative outcomes resulting from initiating a date directly and might be less motivated to reduce uncertainty in the situation. From previous data by Buss & Plomin (1984) it can be inferred that introverts may place more importance on their dating-initiation outcome, be less likely to take a chance, and may see more realistic chances of negative consequences arising. Thus, they may be more inclined to use and prefer indirect means of approaching a potential partner to “play it safe”. On the other hand, extroverts with an outgoing and self-confident nature might be less inclined to see negative consequences resulting and see taking a risky chance as more positive and beneficial. So finally, I predict that extroverts are more likely to be assertive and be direct in their initiation approaches than extroverts (Hypothesis 3).


This research utilized a questionnaire self-completed by each participant. The survey first requested demographic information: age, gender, year in school, and ethnicity (see Appendix A). The survey included a twenty item extroversion test from the Psychologist World’s website to assess whether participants possessed an extroverted or introverted personality type (also see Appendix A). Sample items from the survey included: “I am skilled at handling social situations” – indicating an extroverted attitude, and “I avoid contact with others” – indicating an introverted attitude. Participants ranked each statement on a 5 point Likert scale (ranging from 1 indicating a very inaccurate self-description to 5 indicating a very accurate self-description).

In the final section of the survey, participants indicated what type of dating-initiation preference they favored with a hypothetical person of the opposite sex that they liked and wanted to date, as well as which type of initiation they preferred to have used on them by an opposite sex person asking them out on a date. Participants selected, for each hypothetical scenario respectively, whether they preferred the following dating initiation scenarios: 1) You/they ask directly, 2) You/they hint indirectly about a date, and 3) You/they take no action and wait. Participants also indicated whether they thought a female initiating a date was socially acceptable, levels of nervousness/uncertainty in initiating dates, and past experience and success in dating initiation.

Participants completed the survey in two communication studies classes on the campus of Kansas State University. Sixteen males and twenty-two females completed the survey and were debriefed and thanked (see Appendix B). The average age of participants was 20.5 and the majority (88%) was Caucasian. Forty-six percent of participants were currently in a dating relationship and 47% reported having initiated a date previously.


This experiment consisted of a 2 (Sex – between) X 2 (Extroversion – between) between-subjects factorial design that was used to assess participant’s dating initiation preferences for both how participants prefer to be asked on a date and how they prefer to ask a prospective partner themselves. Levels of extroversion were established by a median split between the high and low levels of extroversion scores obtained.

The first hypothesis indicated that when men were being asked by a prospective dating partner on a date, they would prefer direct or indirect methods of being asked over having the partner wait for them to take the initiative. A Chi-Squared analysis of the survey data revealed a significant difference in observed and expected frequency in how males prefer to be asked by a prospective partner, x2 (1, N = 14) = 14, p < .001, confirming previous research findings that men prefer a prospective dating partner to use direct or indirect approaches rather than wait for the

woman to take action. Refer to Table 1 for the observed versus expected frequencies and the residual of the data set. Thus, hypothesis one was supported.

The second hypothesis predicted that when females ask a prospective male on a date, they would prefer to use indirect means to express their interest or simply wait for them to take action. These two initiation types were predicted by hypothesis two as preferred methods for females, rather than a direct approach. A Chi-Squared analysis showed a significant difference in observed and expected frequency in how females preferred to initiate a date, x2 (1, N = 22) = 16.2, p < .001, indicating support for hypothesis two. Refer to Table 2 for the observed versus expected frequencies and the residual of the data set.

In the final hypothesis it was predicted that extroverts would prefer to use direct means of initiating a date with a prospective partner more than introverts. It was found that extroverts (M = 2.65, SD = .49) did indeed prefer to use direct means more than introverts (M = 2.13, SD =.81). The difference between these two personality types was tested using an independent group t-test which was shown to be significant, t (36) = -2.26, p = .031. Refer to Figure 1 for a graphical display of means between introverts and extroverts. The results of this t-test indicate the final hypothesis was supported.

Another noteworthy, significant finding was that 29 of the 36 participants (83%) thought that female date initiation is socially acceptable. However, among both classes, females felt more uncertain about initiating a date t (36) = 3.66, p = .036. There were a number of other findings where compared means varied but not to a significant level (p was not less than .05). Introverts felt more nervous and uncertain when initiating dates, had fewer initiation experiences, and had been single longer. Men had a higher success rate when analyzing the number of successful initiation attempts (72% vs. 61%). In the Public Speaking class, with each respondent less than 20 years old, individuals reported being single longer and more uncertain in initiating a date.


The findings of this experiment supported all three predicted hypotheses. Hypothesis one that suggested that when a man has an interest in a female with whom he would like to date, he would prefer if she used direct or indirect means of asking him which supports Muehlenhard and McFall’s (1981) previous findings. Novel to this study was hypothesis two, predicting that when a woman would like to ask a prospective male on a date, she would prefer to utilize indirect means of asking or simply wait for him to take action. Hypothesis two predicted that females would not like to be direct in their approaches, which the data supported. Perhaps from sex-role socialization, as discussed by Deborah Tannen, women have a nature to take a secondary or background role when it comes to dating and rely on men to do the approaching and other relationship related tasks. Also, we could infer from Predicted Outcome Value Theory that women may see that by subtly hinting interest to a potential male dating partner, or waiting for him to take action, results in the most possible positive gain for her.

Finally, the third hypothesis subject to examination in this study looked at the personality factor of extroversion and how this trait affected participants dating initiation preferences. It was found that extroverted participants preferred to use more direct approaches of asking for dates more often than introverts. Eysenck’s (1981) theory of extroversion suggests that extroverts are very often under-aroused and seek the stimulation that social situations bring. In addition, the quality of extroversion was described Costa and McCrae (1992) as being assertive, outgoing, and excitement seeking. Introverts were described by Buss and Plomin (1984) as those people that withdraw from and initiate less social situations. Thus, we can deduct from previous research and these findings that extroverts will want to reduce their uncertainty more and will likely be more inclined to see assertive social behavior (such as asking someone directly on a date) as potentially more positive and rewarding than introverts might.

As with any research, there are several limitations pertaining to this study that must be addressed. First, there was a small sample size consisting only of undergraduate students. It may be hard to generalize the results to other populations. Secondly, responses were based on “hypothetical scenarios”. How one might initiate a date in real-life scenarios may be different. Other major limitations of this study include the validity of the survey instruments and the statistics used for data analysis. The survey participants completed consisted of only “Yes” or “No” options for each of the three dating initiation preference options given (Direct, Indirect, or Wait). A better statistical analysis and interpretation could have been preformed if participants only selected one approach that they prefer to use and of which they would prefer a prospective partner use when asking them. The survey also could have been set up so that participants ranked each possible initiation option on a Likert scale, making the dependent variable continuous and easier to analyze statistically. Additionally, the survey could have included more or different extroversion and introversion questions to better determine exactly which personality type the participant fell into. Since a 50% median split had to be used to divide the two personality types because of low introversion personality-type numbers, the data represented more “moderately extroverted” individuals versus “moderately introverted” individuals. Finally, the survey instrument could have better defined exactly what a direct, indirect, or waiting approach meant, including more specific examples of each.

The implications of these research findings are vast.  Previous research by Muehlenhard

and McFall (1981) and Muehlenhard and Miller (1988) only focused on male’s dating initiation preferences by females. This prior research was conducted in order to aid females that were struggling to get or initiate dates with men. This research expanded upon those findings and found significant effects regarding how women actually prefer to initiate dates and whether extroverts or introverts prefer direct means of dating initiation. Several groups of people in the real world can benefit from these research findings. Counselors, therapists, and dating coaches can use this data in giving their clients struggling to approach others in their lives for a date or relationship. The general population reading this can benefit from the findings as well. Readers may want to conduct an extroversion test themselves to see where their personality lies to determine how they should interact and approach those of both the same and opposite personality types. Those that are more introverted in nature or lack social skills may benefit from these research findings to help them gauge how to interact with others in their lives both romantically and socially.

Future research could also address several other aspects of this subject. Sex and personality differences have the potential to be examined in further depth. Are the differences in men and women’s preferences due to sex-role socialization or actual biological differences? Researchers could also examine the nonverbal communication aspects of a date request. Finally, future research should address howimportant dating initiation approaches actually are to individuals. Could future research showthat once two people are happily on a date, the importance of who initiated the date becomes null?

Appendix A
Please fill out the following information about yourself:
Age:  _____
Gender: Male Female
Ethnicity:    Caucasian    African-American Latino Asian Pacific Islander Other:_______
Year in School: Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th year/other

Please rank the following characteristics about yourself on the following scale:

1 = Very Inaccurate, 2 = Moderately Inaccurate, 3 = Neither Inaccurate or Accurate, 4 = Moderately Accurate, 5 = Very Accurate

I avoid contact with others.

1 2 3 4 5
I make friends easily.
1 2 3 4 5
I cheer people up.
1 2 3 4 5
I know how to captivate people.
1 2 3 4 5
I don’t talk a lot.
1 2 3 4 5

I would describe my experiences as somewhat dull.

1          2          3          4          5

I talk to a lot of different people at parties.

1          2          3          4          5

I am skilled in handling social situations.

1 2 3 4 5
I am hard to get to know.
1 2 3 4 5

I don’t mind being the center of attention.

1 2 3 4 5
I retreat from others.
1 2 3 4 5

I don’t like to draw attention to myself.

1 2 3 4 5
I keep in the background.
1 2 3 4 5
I feel comfortable around people.
1 2 3 4 5
I have little to say.
1 2 3 4 5
I am the life of the party.
1 2 3 4 5

I find it difficult to approach others.

1 2 3 4 5
I warm up quickly to others.
1 2 3 4 5
I keep others at a distance.
1 2 3 4 5
I start conversations.
1 2 3 4 5

Imagine you were to ask someone you like of the opposite sex on a date. Would you prefer to: (circle one)

1)   Ask them directly (for example: ask them to a party, lunch, concert, etc.)

YES                NO

2)      Hint indirectly at them (for example: hint that there is a movie on campus to see, mention you have no plans for the weekend, etc.)

YES                NO

3)   Take no action and wait for them to possibly ask.

YES                NO

Imagine someone that you like of the opposite sex that you want to date but has not yet asked you out. Which method of asking would you prefer they: (circle one)

1)   Ask you directly (for example: ask you to a party, lunch, concert, etc.)

YES                NO

2)      Hint indirectly at you (for example: hint that there is a movie on campus to see, mention they have no plans for the weekend, etc.)

YES                NO

3)   Take no action and wait for you to ask.

YES                NO

Do you think it is socially acceptable for a woman to ask a man out on a date?

YES                NO

Are you currently in a dating relationship or married?

YES                NO

Ø  If Yes, who originally initiated the first date?

I DID             MY PARTNER DID

Ø  If No, how long have you been single (in months)?

Consider the most recent time that you went out on a first date with a particular person. In your opinion, what do you think are the top three most important reasons or motivations you had for going out on that date? (Check 3)

______ To have fun

______ To reduce uncertainty/get to know the other person better

______ For sex

______ For companionship (i.e., friendship)

______ For intimacy

______ To escalate the relationship further

______ Other: _____________

Please think back to the last time you actually asked someone out on a date (if applicable):

Ø  How nervous did you feel? (1= Not at all, 7= Very nervous)

1          2          3          4          5          6          7

  • How uncertain did you feel about how they might react? (1= No uncertainty, 7= Very uncertain)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
In the past year, please approximate how many times have you asked someone out? _______
How many of those were successful in getting a first date? _______

How many of those escalated into a long-term relationship (more than 6 months)? _______

Please describe your best experience with dating initiation. Specifically, how did you or they ask and what happened? Describe any specific interpersonal communication behaviors (verbal or nonverbal) that occurred.

Did you later develop a long-term relationship (more than 6 months) with him/her?

Please describe your worst experience with dating initiation.  What happened?

How did you view that person afterwards?   More Negatively, Positively, or the Same?

Appendix B


Thank you for participating in these studies today. Many benefits will come from your participation in these studies.

The purpose of this research project was to determine how men, women, introverts, and extroverts prefer to be asked on a date as well as how they prefer to ask someone else on a date. A limited amount of research has been done on this subject and results from your participation will provide important findings to the scientific community as well as assist college counselors and support groups with those struggling in how to initiate dates with prospective partners.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this research, or are interested in learning more about the finished results, please feel free to contact me (Eric Shumaker, anytime.

Thanks again!

Table 1

Dating Initiation Preferences of Males When Being Asked by a Prospective Dating Partner:

Number Number
Observed Expected Residual
Direct or Indirect Approach 14 7 7
Wait 0 7 -7

Dependent Variable: Preferred approach by a female.

Table 2

Dating Initiation Preferences for Women When Asking a Prospective Dating Partner for a Date:

Number Number
Observed Expected Residual
Indirect Approach or Wait 22 11 9.5
Direct Approach 1 11 -9.5

Dependent Variable: Preferred approach to use when asking.

Figure 1. Mean Differences of Introvert and Extrovert Preferences Toward Using a Direct Initiation Approach On a Prospective Dating Partner:

Approaches Another








Introverts                             Extroverts

Personality Type

Works Cited

Allgeier, A. (1981). The influence of androgynous identification on heterosexual relations. Sex Roles, 7, 321-330.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1980). Influence of extraversion and neuroticism on subjective well-being: Happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 668-678.

Eysenck, H. J. (1981) A model for personality. New York: Springer-Verlag. Martinson, W. D., & Zerface, J. P. (1970). Comparison of individual counseling and a

social program with nondaters. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 17(1), 36-40.

McEwan, K. L. (1983). Perhaps it’s time to leave minimal daters alone. The Behavior Therapist, pp. 100-101.

Muehlenhard, C. L., & McFall, R. M. (1981). Dating initiation from a woman’s perspective. Behavior Therapy, 12(5), 682-691.

Muehlenhard, C. L., & Miller, E. N. (1988). Traditional and nontraditional men’s responses to women’s dating initiation. Behavior Modification, 12(3), 385-403.

Swickert, R., Hittner, J. B., Kitos, N., & Cox-Fuenzalida, L. (2004). Direct or indirect, that is the question: A re-evaluation of extraversion’s influence on self-esteem.

Personality and Individual Differences, 36(1), 207-217.

Walster, E., Walster, G. W., Piliavin, J., & Schmidt, L. (1973). “Playing hard to get”: Understanding an elusive phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26(1), 113-121.