Dating apps: Love them or hate them, their popularity has changed the game. The awkward and complicated exercise of matchmaking that used to dominate the singles’ scene has been reduced to swipes and snap judgments made from virtually no information. A photo, a short description—there’s not much opportunity to create the perfect impression.
So how do you stand out in this sea of faces?
First impressions can form so quickly that you benefit from paying attention to details. Photos might unintentionally signal an unfavorable characteristic or an inaccurate trait, discouraging potential partners. Part of the trick is to generate enough interest—in the blink of an eye—to motivate a second look.
Research has highlighted the importance of facial expressions (a friendly, smiling photo can engender positive feelings), but attention has recently turned to other, less obvious, aspects of nonverbal communication.
For example, how often have you thought about posture when choosing a profile pic?
New research suggests that open or “expansive” postures are highly appealing in romantic contexts (Vacharkulksemsu et al., 2016). Instead of tightening and containing yourself physically, take up space. This subtle change in your physical presence quickly conveys dominance, a trait attractive both to men and women.
That’s right, both men and women.
Dominance is often viewed as a stereotypically attractive trait for men, but these researchers argued that it’s desirable in women, too. Regardless of gender, an expansive posture may have evolved to convey dominance and success in social relations and resource acquisition, which support survival and reproduction goals.
How do we know expansive postures improve first impressions in romantic contexts?
The researchers tested the idea in two different contexts: First, in a speed-dating study, people who assumed more open postures were perceived as more dominant, as well as warmer and as having more vitality (Vacharkulksemsu et al., 2016). These people also received more “yes” responses from other speed-daters. This is particularly exciting because the researchers controlled for other potentially influential factors, including positive, affiliative displays, to show the importance of dominance inferences made from expansive postures.
Turning their attention to dating apps, the researchers then created fake profiles of research assistants in expansive or contractive positions. Over a 48-hour period, they observed the responses received by these profiles, and then compared rates of interest. For both men and women, but more often for men, pictures showing people in an expansive position received more “yes” reactions than the contractive position (Vacharkulksemsu et al., 2016).
To understand this pattern, the researchers examined third-party impressions of these photos. A new set of participants rated the dominance shown in each photo, and, applying these data, the researchers discovered that dominance inferences drove “yes” responses. In other words, expansive postures have their effect on romantic attraction because of dominance inferences.
So what does this mean for online daters? It could reveal the potential of a poorly-chosen picture to negatively impact dating opportunities. Regardless of your personality or likability, a photo showing you in a contractive posture will hurt your success rate. To keep the odds in your favor, select a picture of you in an open, expansive posture.
Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Reit, E., Khambatta, P., Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Carney, D. R. (2016). Dominant, open nonverbal displays are attractive at zero-acquaintance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 4009-4014.