Order and attraction in online dating

Good news if the cruel world of online dating has you down.

In a new study, researchers from University of Sydney have given everyone who’s ever been rejected online a ready-made rationalization.

Many online dating platforms will show you someone’s picture and let you make a yes/no decision: interested or not interested, attractive or not attractive, swipe right or swipe left. But it turns out that which way you go depends not just on the person you’re looking at but also on the other people you’ve already rated.

The researchers discovered this by creating a simulated dating site and having study participants view a series of potential matches, rating each one as either attractive or unattractive. What they found was that for a given picture, users were more likely to rate the face as attractive if they’d rated the immediately preceding picture as attractive and more likely to rate it as unattractive when they’d rated the immediately preceding picture as unattractive.

To put it another way: if I give you a series of faces and ask you to swipe right or swipe left, what order you view the faces in will affect which faces you swipe right on.

There are a couple takeaways here.

One is that if you’re having trouble with online dating, it’s probably not your fault – just blame the person before you. The other is that online dating is an entirely new way of interacting with potential partners, and we’re only beginning to understand how this new format plays with our perceptions.

Of course, appearance isn’t everything in online dating! There’s also the profile text, the place where your personality is supposed to shine through.

A 2013 experiment looked at how people assess each other’s online dating profiles, finding that in the brave new world of online matchmaking, there’s still some truth to the old adage that opposites attract.

Specifically, they found that people who were less conscientious and less open were more attracted to profiles they perceived as being written by people who were more conscientious and more open, and vice-versa. So on the personality traits of conscientiousness and openness, people sought out partners they perceived as having complementary qualities.

They key word here, however, is perceived. Shockingly, it turns out an online dating profile doesn’t always convey an accurate picture of someone’s personality. In the study, whether people were perceived as conscientious and open from their profiles ended up having no correlation with how they actually scored on these personality traits.

What all this really tells us is that in online dating, as in real-life dating, there are lots of arbitrary coincidences that influence the final outcome, and there’s no algorithm that’s going to change that in the foreseeable future. So just get out there, see what happens, and hope that your Tinder profile is consistently popping up immediately following incredibly attractive people.

Image: FreeImages.com/leagun