OKCupid is a popular online dating site, and the creators also run a blog called OKTrends in which they describe patterns of their consumers’ behavior with a whole lot of number crunching. The findings they publish are interesting and thought provoking (for example, when women make flirtatious eye-contact in profile pictures, that gets more attention than a smiling picture, on “The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures”). The question is, how accurate are these types of findings in light of scientific research on attraction and dating, and how consistent are they with behavior in the general population?
There is no “right” or “wrong” in the world of online dating (yet), because in general the businesspeople who run dating websites are reluctant to open up their algorithms or data on their consumers’ behaviors and successes to peer-review1 (even though OKCupid publishes data on their blog, it is still outside the realm of scientific scrutiny).
However, if we look at what OKTrends reports, some of it fits with research about attraction and dating in the general population. For example, on “The Big Lies People Tell in Online Dating,” they report that men on their site inflate their income slightly more than women do. This is consistent with evolutionary psychology and Sexual Strategies Theory.2 In general, women prefer men with more material resources to assist with mating/reproduction, so men in the virtual world and the real world will want to play up how much money they have, even if it’s somewhat of an exaggeration. Indeed this pays off, since men on OKCupid who advertise making more money receive more messages.
Reported on “Your Looks and Online Dating” and “The Mathematics of Beauty,” physical attractiveness matters more for women than men in terms of how many messages they receive. But the women who are consistently rated most attractive (at the very top of the scale) actually receive fewer messages (revealing an upside-down U-Shaped curve). This makes sense, given that men probably won’t spend a lot of time and effort sending messages to women who are likely to reject them. Beautiful women have value, and can afford to be pickier in choosing a man to date, but this can actually backfire because most men will assume they don’t have a shot with the hottest women. Psychologists in the late 1970s came up with a formula (Desirability = Physical Attractiveness X Probability of Acceptance)3 to demonstrate the phenomenon that people are unwilling to pursue an attractive mate if they think they will be rejected.
Overall, OKTrends reports some very interesting data, and some of it appears to be consistent with psychological research. However, no amount of data on internet dating will be considered scientifically valid until it is open to peer-review. This is unlikely to happen, but until it does, we scientists can continue to weigh in on the accuracy of what they report.
For another post related to an OKTrend post whether using Twitter is bad for relationships, click here.
1Sprecher, S., Schwartz, P., Harvey, J., & Hatfield, E. (2008). Thebusinessoflove.com: Relationship initiation at Internet matchmaking services. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, J. Harvey, S. (Eds.), Handbook of relationship initiation (pp. 249-265). New York, NY US: Psychology Press.
2Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual Strategies Theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100(2), 204-232
3Shanteau, J., & Nagy, G. F. (1979). Probability of acceptance in dating choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(4), 522-533.
Dr. Dylan Selterman – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Selterman’s research focuses on secure vs. insecure personality in relationships. He studies how people dream about their partners (and alternatives), and how dreams influence behavior. In addition, Dr. Selterman studies secure base support in couples, jealousy, morality, and autobiographical memory.