SCIENCE

Your Scientific, Data-Driven Guide To Online Dating

Before you swipe right, here's what 4,000 scientific studies say about optimizing your online dating experience

SCIENCE
A good heart, these days, is hard to Google. — Pic: Alamy
Oct 13, 2015 at 7:45 PM ET

Online dating is not an art—it’s a science. Nearly 4,000 studies have already picked apart the details of top dating profiles, analyzed when webcam chats tend to bomb and highlighted the most attractive usernames. Now, in the one meta data analysis to rule them all, scientists have collated reams of online dating research into a scientific recipe for turning an OK Cupid conversation into a first date.

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Researchers boiled that body of 4,000 studies into a more manageable group of 86 particularly strong scientific papers. Each of these studies examined a different factor in online dating—from profile pics to private messages—and noted how often certain behaviors led to an actual date. Overall, the results suggest it’s better to just be yourself. Charming, honest profiles with accurate photos still receive the most attention, even in the shady world of online dating. But there were also a few surprises. Here’s how to optimize your dating profile:

Screen Names

When it comes to choosing a screen name, pick a playful moniker that connotes fun or enthusiasm. One 2010 study also found that men are most attracted to screen names that imply beauty or sexiness, while women prefer screen names that signify intelligence or culture. And perhaps because many search engines sort results alphabetically, studies have found an online dating bias in favor of screen names that begin with a letter in the top half of the alphabet.

TL;DR: Use a top letter in the alphabet. Guys, stress intellect. Women, beauty.

Photos

For your primary profile photo, you’re going to need a headshot with a genuine smile, wrinkles near your eyes and a slight tilt of the head. But for your photo gallery, stick with group shots that show you having a good time around other people. Women find a man more attractive when they see other women smiling at him, studies suggest, and people often assign more importance to figures in the center of a group photo than those in the periphery. It also helps if you’re playfully touching someone in the photo, because touching other people is apparently a sign of high social status.

TL;DR: Profile pic: headshot with a smile. Photo gallery: fun group photos.

Descriptions

Aim for the 70:30 ratio—70 percent of your description should be about you, and 30 percent should focus on your ideal partner. What to write? A few disappointing studies have found that men prefer women who enjoy yoga and aerobics, but are less into women who play sports. Meanwhile, women tend to value bravery and risky attitudes in men over kindness and altruism. Both sexes value humor, studies suggest, so it pays to not take your profile too seriously. One area to take very seriously, however, is honesty—multiple studies have shown that people who lie on their dating profiles rarely land a first date.

TL;DR: 70 percent about yourself, 30 percent about what you’re looking for.

Private Messages 

Instead of polishing your pickup lines, start with an open-ended question. Studies have shown that one of the best openers (in response to an invitation to chat) is: “What did you like about my profile?” because it encourages multiple answers and compliment swaps—the ideal recipe for a first chat.

Predictably, humor and wit are good, and studies have shown that people are most attracted to others when they’re not sure how much that other person likes them—so a little mystery goes a long way. Eager responses are, surprisingly, not a turn-off in an online dating scenario and disclosing personal information during the first conversation is actually encouraged for forming long-lasting bonds (presuming that’s what you want).

And then there are the specific scientific findings that apply to any good conversation—online or otherwise. People tend to feel closer when they agree about dislikes more than likes; gossiping about other people is usually a good thing; you shouldn’t agree with everything he or she says, but try to avoid outright criticisms. If you have something unpleasant to say, try revealing it in the middle of the conversation, and make sure that you end every conversation on a positive note.

TL;DR: Be funny, ask open-ended questions, don’t play games and finish strong.

Video Chats

When on camera, the basic rule is: act like a human being. Studies have shown that webcam daters respond well to body language, hand gestures and nodding your head when the other person is talking. Also remember to sit upright, smile and and vary the pitch of your voice—especially when using emotionally-charged words like “love”. One study even suggests that it helps to intentionally spill a drink mid-conversation, just to make things seem natural.

TL;DR: Act like a human. Don’t be a robot.