A picture is worth a thousand words…but probably only half a date. We all know the importance of initial physical attraction for romantic relationships. In face-to-face meetings it is the first piece of information that we get about a potential partner. But how important is it when trying to meet people online? Are profiles considered “attractive”? How important is that photo, anyway?
Researchers at UC Berkeley teamed up with a pay-to-play online dating site (no, not ours) in order to find out, and recently presented their findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Conference. They took online dating profiles belonging to men and women and broke them down into their component parts: photo, free response description and multiple choice descriptions.
Participants of the study viewed the online profiles whole and in their component parts and rated them on attractiveness. For both genders, a photo was necessary for a profile to be viewed as attractive. For women, surprisingly, this was also the only thing needed to deem a profile attractive; all profiles with photos of attractive men were viewed as attractive overall. Men seemed to be the pickier sex this time around: at least one other portion of the profile needed to be rated as attractive in order for the entire profile to be considered attractive.
However, before you start worrying about the quality of your photos and uploading several to your own profile, know this: the researchers found that participants rated the content of the profile as the bigger winner in determining whether the person in the profile was likable and deserving of a response if they were to contact the study participant. It turns out that while a photo might be the big predictor of initial attraction, the description and content of the profile is used to determine other important relationship traits such as warmth, kindness, and trustworthiness.
When looking at online dating users specifically, the researchers found that once users actually met face-to-face, physical appearance was the least important predictor of how long the relationship lasted. The feeling of an overall attraction to the partner that included feeling that they had really been able to “get to know” their date was the most important.
Bottom line? When online dating, post your best photo, but remember to spend some time (and spell check) on that profile! Lastly, how you behave on the date will be far more important than anything that came before it.
Taylor, L.S., Fiore, A., Mendelsohn, G.A., and Cheshire, C (2010). More than just a pretty face? The relative importance of phsycial attractiveness in initial attraction. Poster presented at Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Las Vegas, 2010.