Users admit that when evaluating other profiles, good looks is the most important factor.[1] Yet research reveals that trustworthiness is also attractive, supporting the notion that there is more to interpersonal attraction than meets the eye.

Captivating Conservative Charm: The Allure of Trust

Online dating profiles range from reserved to racy and everything in between.  Partner preference depends on personal taste, anticipated compatibility, and relational goals.  Someone seeking to settle down is unlikely to waste time communicating with posters promoting promiscuity. 

Some posters seeking curb appeal assume viewers want to see skin and open sexuality.  Some do.  Yet research reveals that when physical characteristics are equal, many online daters are more attracted to more conservative profiles that indicate trustworthiness.

Tegula/Pixabay
Source: Tegula/Pixabay

One study compared the perceptions of male and female online daters using profiles that were “Traditional/ Uptight” versus “Open/ Free Spirited.” [2] Traditional daters were portrayed as having more intellectually oriented interests that could be completed alone, such as reading, and were shown bundled in winter clothing.[3] Free Spirited daters were depicted in bathing suits, with profile characteristics more consistent with a less-intellectual, party-style social life.[4] The same male and female actors were portrayed in both profile types.[5]

The results? Online daters with traditional profiles were perceived as more attractive, trustworthy, and agreeable than daters with “open” profiles. [6] The mediating factor turned out to be a healthy, wholesome, character trait—trustworthiness.  Trustworthiness mediated interpersonal attraction and profile type. [7]

Interestingly, although the profiles were designed for strangers and accordingly presented superficial information, viewers were nonetheless able to infer desirable values and characteristics.[8]

Other research, however, indicates that attractive posters are desirable, even when they are distrusted.

Online Daters Who Are “Too Hot To Trust”—If They Are Female

A very recent study entitled “Too Hot To Trust” found that enhancing attractiveness through beautification techniques negatively impacted perceptions of trustworthiness—but only for men viewing women.[9]  In viewing profile photos, men perceived an attractive woman as less trustworthy, while women perceived an attractive man as more trustworthy.[10] 

The study´s findings are significant because they contradict offline relational dynamics where trustworthiness and credibility correlate with perceived attractiveness.[11]

The study featured the same male and female actors, displayed in either a non-enhanced or enhanced photo condition,[12] demonstrating the impact of subtle beautification techniques on attractiveness ratings.[13]  This is important, because online, an attractive photo predicts attractiveness of the entire profile. [14]  

The non-enhanced male photo portrayed the actor shirtless, unkempt hair and greasy skin, looking like he just woke up.[15]  In the enhanced condition, the same male actor is bright eyed, wearing stylish clothes, displaying a full smile and leaning towards the camera.[16]  The female in the unenhanced condition wore no makeup and had her hair pulled back and un-styled, where in her enhanced photo she was showcased under soft lighting, with makeup and styled hair.[17] 

The halo effect apparently benefited men but not women, in terms of women believing attractive men possess other socially desirable qualities.[18] Men, on the other hand, were more inclined to trust plain Jane.  Although that did not necessarily mean they wanted to date her, demonstrating a hypocrisy that is consistent with other research.[19] 

Distrusted But Desired

As I discussed in a previous column,[20] attractive online daters are both distrusted and desired.  Attractive photographs decrease perceived authenticity of the online poster—which correlates with perceived authenticity of accompanying text.[21] Nonetheless, although suspicious, users will employ deceptive self-presentation themselves in an attempt to secure dates with attractive posters.[22]

Yet because viewers have a greater intention to date posters with profile photos they find more attractive,[23] trustworthiness implications no doubt predict subsequent offline relational dynamics.

The best-case scenario is finding a profile that combines both attractiveness and trustworthiness, which research demonstrates is certainly possible, given the association between the two traits.  It is this combination that is likely to successfully make the move offline, and more likely to last.  

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert.  She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD

References

[1] Monica T. Whitty, ”Revealing the ´real´ me, searching for the áctual´ you: Presentations of self on an internet dating site,” Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 24 (2008): 1707-1723 (1707).

[2] Seunga Venus Jin and Cassie Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?' The Effects of User-Generated Online Dater Profile Types (Free-Spirited Versus Uptight) on Other Users' Perception of Trustworthiness, Interpersonal Attraction, and Personality,”  Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking Vol. 18, No. 6 (June 2015): 320-327.

[3] Jin and Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?'”  322.

[4] Jin and Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?'”  322.

[5] Jin and Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?'”  322.

[6] Jin and Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?'”  326.

[7] Jin and Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?'”  326.

[8] Jin and Martin, “' A Match Made...Online?'”  326.

[9] Rory McGloin and Amanda Denes, "Too Hot to Trust: Examining the Relationship Between Attractiveness, Trustworthiness, and Desire to Date in Online Dating." New Media & Society (2017): 1-18.

[10] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust.”

[11] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 12 (citing Dion et al., 1972).

[12] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 7.

[13] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 11-12.

[14] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 12 (citing Fiore et al., 2008).

[15] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 7.

[16] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 7.

[17] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 7.

[18] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 12.

[19] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust,” 13.

[20] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-bad-looks-good/201705/online-dating-photo-fraud-the-person-behind-the-profile

[21] Shao-Kang Lo, Ai-Yun Hsieh, and Yu-Ping Chiu. "Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating," Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 29, No. 4 (2013): 1755-1762.

[22] Lo et al., "Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating."

[23] McGloin and Denes, "Too Hot to Trust.”

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