Ever tried online dating? Early research suggests that men present themselves as wealthier, taller, and with more hair. Women, on the other hand, are thought to present themselves as blonder, thinner, and bustier. In effect the early research suggests that men and women have beliefs about what prospective dates want and they present themselves in a way that matches. This is particularly an issue for heterosexual men as heterosexual women get approximately six times more contacts than do men.
I conducted one of the first controlled studies to look at self-presentation (how people make a good impression) in online dating and my study revealed different results than described above. To examine online dating in a controlled study, we first had participants fill out a battery of questionnaires with no mention of online dating. Once participants had completed this, within a month after participating, single participants were invited to participate in a second study. Depending on condition, some participants thought this study also pertained to personality (no online dating control condition), while others thought they were coming in to help the University pilot test its new online dating service. Within the group expecting to test the online dating service, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: do not meet date, meet date online in one week, or meet date in person in one week.
Watch out ladies! Our results indicated that men who expected to meet their date online said they were more agreeable, emotionally stable, and attractive (even when we controlled for this with coders' ratings of attractiveness based on photographs of the participants) than they were at time 1. Women did not demonstrate any differences in reported personality or attractiveness regardless of condition.
What's the upshot here? Clearly men know what women want and if they have a chance to meet their date online, at least those in our study were willing to deceive. So, what is an honest online dater to do? Take time to get to know a prospective romantic partner over email. Look for inconsistencies in his or her communications. And, if attractiveness is important to you, get a lot of photographs!
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