If you’ve ever dipped a toe into the murky pools of online dating, you’ll be familiar with the uncomfortable agony of composing an ‘About Me’ section. It’s like trying to write a cover letter when you haven’t seen the job description. What do you emphasise? What do you play down? And now that “watching Netflix” has become clichéd, what the hell do you put under ‘Hobbies’?
Thank god, then, for a team of sweet, sweet psychologists at the University of Iowa, who have dedicated an entire research project to discovering exactly what it is that makes an online dating profile successful. They discovered that people who want to score a date should resist the temptation to present an idealized version of themselves – because they’ll come across as arrogant.
In the new study, published in the journal Communication Monographs, researchers presented 316 online daters with one of four sample online dating profiles, each containing a different kind of content. Specifically, they wanted to test the effectiveness of two strategies: selective self-presentation and warranting.
Selective self-presentation is essentially a fancy phrase for emphasising your best bits – something we all have a tendency to do, but particularly in the context of online dating. When trying to attract a romantic or sexual partner on the internet, people are often inclined to present a load of positive information about themselves, while downplaying (or completely omitting) anything negative. In other words, there’s a tendency to show off a bit.
Warranting, meanwhile, is the practice of backing up your claims. Somebody who talks about their high-flying job might include a link to their biography page on the company website, for example, while someone else who describes themselves as a ‘keen cook’ might drop in a mention of their successful food blog.
You might think that profiles packed with positive information – and supported by reassuring, corroborating evidence! – would be sure-fire hits in the risky realm of online dating. But it turns out there’s a fine line between presenting yourself in the best possible light and coming across as arrogant – and if you cross it, your chances of finding love might be scuppered.
The study found that profiles containing high levels of selective self-selection and high levels of warranting weren’t actually perceived as attractive at all. Rather, the person behind the profile was seen as arrogant – and when someone was perceived as bragging too much about their character, accomplishments or looks, they were also considered less trustworthy and less socially attractive. Unsurprisingly, this made it far less likely that people would want to contact them or ask them out.
So what is a good strategy when putting together that all-important bio? According to the research, the most effective formula was low selective self-presentation combined with high warranting: in other words, modesty and evidence. This combination, according to the study’s authors, made people “seem honest as well as humble and approachable”.
“Daters should strive to present themselves as humble, ‘real’ people,” the authors concluded. In a nutshell: be yourself. Easy, right?