I recently read an article entitled “OkCupid Experiment Proves Men Don’t Mind Dating Sociopaths.” Naturally, I was intrigued. The article goes on to report the results of an “experiment” in which a couple of friends created a fake OkCupid profile featuring an image of an attractive woman (“Tara_IceAge4”) whose profile appeared, well, a little on the crazy side. Read the full article if you want all of the gory details, but the basic idea is that she’s racist, insensitive (e.g., she makes jokes about 9/11), erratic, a hit-and-run driver, and, above all else, a really poor speller. This fake profile was viewed 400 times and received 39 replies from potential male suitors within a few hours. So does this little study “prove” that men are perfectly comfortable dating sociopaths? And, in the words of the article’s author, is this really “an experiment that every human being should examine?” No and no. Let me explain.
First, it’s worth pointing out that less than 10% of the people who viewed the profile responded, which tells us that this certainly isn’t something that was appealing to men across the board. Instead, these results actually provide evidence for the opposite of what the author claimed: men clearly were not feeling Tara_IceAge4. Thus, the author of the article’s claim that Little Miss Crazy was “inundated” with replies is a stretch in light of the response rate.
Second, there’s no evidence that people actually read the profile; rather, perhaps guys responded based solely upon the picture. Consistent with this idea, a recent eye-tracking study conducted by an independent consumer agency found that when viewing online dating profiles, men zero in on the photos, while women zero in on the written profiles (you can read more about that study here). Based upon such findings, it would be quite a leap in logic to conclude that all or even most men actually read anything Tara_IceAge4 wrote.
Third, although some guys replied, this doesn’t say anything about ALL guys, as the title of the article implies. The authors only looked at responses to one online profile on one online dating website, and only .001% of the website’s members (yes, I actually went to the trouble of calculating that) actually responded to the profile. This means we are hardly dealing with a representative sample of the male population, and the tiny number of men who actually responded probably can’t even be considered a representative sample of OkCupid users.
Lastly, this was not a true “experiment.” An experiment requires making some kind of comparison. If we want to conclude that men will go for an attractive woman no matter whether she is crazy or sane, then we need to manipulate this by having a profile of a woman who is pretty and crazy and compare this to a profile of a woman who is equally pretty but sane and see who gets more replies. However, because that was not done in this case, we can’t really draw much in the way of conclusions.
Despite these limitations, the author of the article deduces that men “don’t care if their lady friend is erratic…as long as she’s good-looking.” However, this conclusion simply isn’t substantiated by actual research. If you consider what psychologists have actually found when it comes to men’s dating preferences, women’s brains are at least as important as their looks. For instance, an Internet survey that included over 119,000 male participants found that men’s most desired characteristics in a potential romantic partner were (in order): intelligence, good looks, humor, and honesty.1 Thus, while good looks are certainly important to men, they are only one part of the story when it comes to finding a relationship partner. Of course, priorities may change when seeking short-term sexual partners, but that’s a whole other story. In fact, if the author wanted to argue that guys might be inclined to sleep with a pretty sociopath, he might be able to make a stronger case—but dating a sociopath? Not so much.
In short, rather than being “an experiment that every human being should examine,” this is one that every human being should probably forget ever happened.
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1Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 36, 193-208. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9151-2
Dr. Justin Lehmiller – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller’s research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.
joseph santus says
"Are men's standards so low they'd date sociopaths" seems to me to be a misdirected question based on an inference from what's likely the important question, "WHAT seems more important to men when they initially assess women for long or for short-term goals?"
Although this experiment was faulty (and, to be fair, Dr. Lehmiller's objections, at least as he presents them, are faulty as well; for example, did the doctor examine the data for, say, another hundred randomly chosen women's profiles on OKCupid in order to observe whether or not it is normative for a woman's profile to be "…viewed 400 times and received 39 replies from potential male suitors within a few hours"? does Dr Lehmiller know that those views-and-replies quantities and ratio isn't typical?), its inconclusive-in-themselves results nevertheless correspond to what Dr Lehmiller himself acknowledges: "…an independent consumer agency found that when viewing online dating profiles, men zero in on the photos, while women zero in on the written profiles."
In otherwords, men focus primarily on physical appearance, whereas women are primarily focused on character/personality/status (which doesn't necessarily indicate that physical appearance isn't what initially catches a woman's attention; but does evidence that while men apparently continue to focus on physical appearance, women quickly shift to assessing persona after their attention has been caught). The corollary from this conclusion is that, hypothetically, a man can view a woman whom he finds physically attractive and then experience a desire to meet or date her DESPITE the fact that, unknown to him, she's a sociopath.
But the point here is not that a man doesn't care if she's a sociopath; rather, that, due to primarily focusing on appearance not persona, men may miss the information which would indicate to them that a woman is sociopathic.
That men primarily focus on physical appearance rather than on persona seems to me to lie at the root of the "men have low standards" stereotyping. For, in at least women's minds and in the collective estimation of modern westernized society, to primarily focus upon physical appearance is "shallow" and labeled "low standards."