Researchers say partners who meet online are more likely to have successful long-term relationships than those who meet in traditional ways. That’s just the first eye-opening finding from scientists who have studied online romance.
Studies say that most single adults have tried to use the Internet to meet romantic partners. And why not? Social media sites allow us to express ourselves, email and other applications ease communication, and dating sites and services help hook us up with people who see the world we do. It’s no wonder online dating is booming.
Public perception has not caught up with the reality of online romance, however. Here are some of the surprising things psychologists have discovered about online dating sites and the people who use them.
1. YES, USERS LIE OR EXAGGERATE
Users of dating sites report overwhelmingly that their profiles are accurate, but independent audits show that fibs are common. In 2008, researches compared the height, weight, and age shown in users’ profiles with statistics from the users’ driving licenses. They found that a whopping nine out of 10 lied on at least one of the figures.
“Lied” may be too strong a word. Researchers found that most women shaved a few pounds off their reported weight, while men overstated their height by a little bit. Online profiles tend to reflect users the way they see themselves at their best, but not the way they look every day.
It makes sense that the exaggerations are small. The whole point of online dating sites is for the partners to meet in real life one day. Big lies will be detected easily.
2. A PICTURE CANNOT LIE – MUCH
Does your dating profile picture reflect the way you look in daily life? Should it?
Researchers had neutral judges compare users’ profile photos with casual photos taken by the researchers. In most cases, judges found the profile photos were a bit more attractive.
This is not unexpected, of course. When you select a photo for your profile, you are naturally going to choose a flattering one. Even without resorting Photoshop, you can improve your online appearance by picking a photo with a lucky combination of lighting and camera angle.
3. WHAT PHOTOS REVEAL
When it comes to photos, researchers found some definite trends.
Women received the highest response rates when they made eye contact with the camera and adopted a flirtatious expression. The lowest response rates came to women who appeared flirtatious but were looking away from the camera, presumably toward someone else.
The results were different for men, who got the most response when their profile portraits depicted them looking away from the camera and not smiling. A flirtatious expression results in a “drastic reduction in messages” for men, researchers found.
The users with long-running online conversations tended to be those whose photos showed them doing something interesting, posing with a pet or other animal, or in an interesting travel destination.
Photos associated with shorter conversations showed users in bed, in generic outdoor locations, or having fun with friends. The very shortest conversations correlated with profile pictures that showed users drinking alcohol.
4. OPPOSITES DON’T ATTRACT
Researchers have found that married couples who met online were more likely to have different ages and educational backgrounds than those who met in traditional ways.
For the most part, however, users of online dating services seek out people who are like themselves: the same race, similar ages, the same religion, a similar amount of education, and so on. In fact, a study of relationships that began online shows that you can predict the success of the relationship by calculating how similar the two parties are. The more their profiles are the same, the longer their relationship is likely to last.
5. REAL-LIFE MEET-UPS ARE NOT RARE
Researchers say that once members of online dating communities have screened those who contact them to weed out incompatible members, about 51 percent go on to meet face-to-face. Meetings most commonly happen between seven and 30 days after establishing an online conversation.
Psychologists report that the first meeting is often a short one that is intended to verify that the other person matches the online reality. Users seek out divergence from what they have learned through conversations and reviewing profiles.
Once they’re satisfied that the other person is the same in person as online, they move on to assessing personal chemistry and deciding whether future dates are in store.
6. KEEP INTRODUCTION MESSAGES SHORT
Everyone wants to get more responses to initial messages. Most websites have guidelines that help users write messages that will generate a positive response. Researchers report that only 30 percent of messages sent by men to women get a response, and only about 45 percent of messages sent by women to men.
Longer introductory messages result in a very small improvement in response time for men and no improvement for women, so time invested in writing longer messages is unlikely to be repaid.
7. EMOTIONAL OPENNESS WORKS
Researchers say users of online dating sites and applications respond favourably to those who indicate emotional involvement in life with words like “excited” and “wonderful.” Sharing the intensity of positive emotions improves response and desirability ratings for both men and women.
8. IT’S NOT JUST LOSERS
Pop culture suggests that Internet dating is just for losers who can’t get a date in real life. The evidence is just the opposite.
Researchers have found that users of online dating sites and applications are more likely to be sociable in real life, to have high self-esteem, and to have low dating anxiety.
There is no evidence that people choose online dating because they can’t cope with traditional ways of meeting and getting to know people. In fact, it is people with high social aptitude who have adopted online dating first, seeing it as just another way of meeting new people.