Detecting Deception in Online Profiles
Most people do not accurately describe themselves in on-line profiles, especially dating profiles. Toma, Hancock, and Ellison (2007) surveyed 80 people who submitted online profiles on various dating web sites. An astounding 81% of the online daters lied about one or more of their physical attributes, which included height, weight, and age. Woman tended to lie about their weight and men tended to lie about their height. Women whose weight scored further from the mean lied more about their weight. Likewise, men whose height scored further from the mean lied more about their height. The survey respondents reported that they were more likely to lie about their photographs than relationship information such as marital status and the number of children they have.
In a follow-up study by Hancock and Toma (2009), they found that about one-third of the online photographs examined were not accurate. Women's photographs were judged as less accurate than men's photographs. Women were more likely to be older than they were portrayed in their photographs. Their photographs were more likely to be retouched or taken by professional photographers. Additionally, less attractive people are more likely to enhance their profile (Toma & Hancock, 2010). The most interesting finding was that although people frequently lied about their on-line profiles, they attempted to keep their alterations within believable parameters in the event they met their correspondents in subsequent face-to-face meetings (Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, 2009).
The magnitude of deception in on-line profiles should not come as a big surprise. An on-line profile is the equivalent of a first date. Anyone who has been on a first date will remember putting their best foot forward. Women dressed with great contemplation and took extra minutes to put on their makeup. Men ensured their clothes were color-coordinated and wrinkle-free. Conversations were rehearsed before any words were exchanged. Personality flaws and behavioral quirks were carefully camouflaged with polite talk and impeccable manners. The extra steps were taken to make the right first impression.
Men and women feel the need to meet standards of beauty society established and propagated by the media. People lie to bring themselves closer to the standard image in the hope of attracting a mate. People who believe they do not meet those standards feel less attractive and are less confident that they can attract and keep a partner without lying about who they are and how they look. This pattern will not change in the foreseeable future and will intensify as on-line dating services become more popular.
Putting your best foot forward on a first date is not construed as deception because the foot put forward still belongs to the person you are talking to, albeit an enhanced version. A deceptive on-line profile may attract a partner but once the deception is discovered, trust, disappointment, and betrayal become the centerpiece of the relationship instead of excitement, hopes, and dreams. Be honest in your on-line profiles and be patient. The right relationship is worth the wait.
Other techniques to detect decepiton can be found in Psychological Narrative Analysis: A Professional Method to Detect Deception in Oral and Written Communications.
Toma, C., Hancock, J., & Ellison, N. (2007). Conference Papers: International Communication Association, Annual Meeting.
Hancock, J. & Toma, C. (2009). Putting your best face forward: The accuracy of online dating photographs. Journal of Communication 59, pp. 367-386.