SCIENCE

The Perfect Online Dating Profile Isn't 'Perfect' At All

02/17/2015 08:31 am ET | Updated Feb 17, 2015
Dimitri Otis via Getty Images

When creating an online dating profile, the usual protocol is, of course, to put one's best foot forward. But don't try to make yourself look too good. According to new research, an overzealously scrubbed OKCupid profile may not elicit the adoration you'd think.

Researchers from the University of Iowa found that people are distrusting of flashy or too-perfect online dating profiles. The most successful profiles, instead, are those that feel authentic, and offer a sense of who the person really is.

"We found people want to contact a person who appears to be accurate in what they are saying about themselves online," one of the study's authors, University of Iowa communications professor Andy High, said in a statement. "It's tough when it comes to dating profiles because we want someone who seems like an amazing person, but we also hopefully will have a relationship with this individual, so we want them to exist."

In order to test how people respond to various types of dating profiles, the researchers created eight fake OKCupid profiles (four men and four women), with combinations of two possible orientations. The first orientation, "Selective Self-Preservation" (SSP) highlighted only what is "good" about the person and their life, while the other type of profile, "Warranting," contains information that is traceable to a real person.

The pseudo-profiles were then shown to 317 study participants (150 men and 167 women, with an average age of 40) who had previous experience using online dating sites. The participants were asked to judge the profiles and decide who they would be interested in dating.

The profiles that scored the highest were "low-SSP and high-Warranting" -- i.e., those that did not present the person as perfect, and which also contained information that made the person feel more real (i.e. the company they work for, the name of their blog). The lowest-ranking profiles were high-SSP and low-Warranting, possibly because they come across as being too good to be true.

Essentially, the findings suggest that people want to be able to see, and relate to, the person behind the profile. The participants preferred getting more details about the prospective partner's life, and seeing a range of different traits and interests, rather than just the most positive. Perhaps, as we become more seasoned online daters, our BS detectors start to go off more -- and real becomes more important than perfect.

"You want to balance all that is wonderful about yourself with some things that aren't negative, but more humble or realistic about yourself," High explained.

Since online dating algorithms are known to leave something to be desired when it comes to accuracy, presenting a more real picture of ourselves may increase the odds somewhat of finding a decent match.

Or if being "real" doesn't work, you can always feign authenticity with a bunch of tattoos or piercings -- according to OKCupid founder Christian Rudder, people with unique features or lots of tattoos get 10 percent more messages and dates than conventionally good-looking people.

The findings are preliminary and have not yet been peer reviewed. They were presented in November at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association.

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