Yes, It Really Is Me

Deception in online dating.

Posted Oct 30, 2019

Courtesy of Pexels
Source: Courtesy of Pexels

Online dating has become a popular way to meet potential mates. While privacy is one major concern, another is whether or not the profiles you see are actually representative of those who crafted them. Essentially, do the people behind the profiles accurately depict their true selves?

The Magnitude of Deception

While lies may be commonplace in online dating, they may not be as extreme as the media (i.e., Catfish) leads us to believe. Hancock, Toma, and Ellison (2013) note that while online deception occurs frequently, the magnitude of the lies told is typically small. Their study, which drew users from dating sites in which they created profiles about themselves, as opposed to sites in which singles are matched based on survey responses, examined deception regarding height, weight, and age. In addition, their research explored whether or not the lies being told were intentional.

The researchers found that with regard to height, men were more likely to overstate than women. In addition, shorter online daters were significantly more likely to lie about their height than tall daters. With regard to weight, women were significantly more likely to underreport their weight than men; and overweight online daters were more likely to underreport than individuals who were not overweight (the latter result occurred for both men and women). Regarding the two aforementioned variables, males and females lie in ways that adhere to what we perceive of as something potential mates would find attractive.

With regard to age, there was no statistically significant difference between the reporting of men and women, as both groups reported their actual ages. Older participants were more likely to lie about their age than younger daters, but this difference wasn’t statistically significant. The researchers note that age may not have been changed on the profiles in the way that the other two variables were because age is static, unlike height and weight which fluctuate — height as a result of shoes and weight as a result of diet and exercise.

Overall, lying occurred on at least one of the three variables in 81% of the cases examined, indicating that deception is quite frequent. However, the magnitude of the deception for each variable was small, meaning that even upon meeting, these lies would be difficult to ascertain.

Hancock et al. (2013) also examined whether these lies were intentional or a result of self-deception. The results demonstrated that the online daters’ estimations of their height, weight, and age were correlated to the deviations between their profile and actual numbers. Therefore, the participants knew that they were lying; it wasn’t a matter of having an inaccurate view of oneself.

Despite the fact that a small proportion of the lies were extreme, those that are, tend to be more salient. This may be why anecdotal evidence of extreme deception and catfishing tend to spread rapidly. It is important to note that not all deception is the same: Some people lie intentionally to deceive, whereas others may be embellishing in ways to enhance themselves.

The Context Leading to Deception

In another study, Guadagno, Okdie, and Kruse (2012) examined deception and self-presentation. The goal for many people is to present oneself in a favorable light to outside audiences. In order to achieve certain goals — get a job, meet a partner, etc. — people may intentionally lie and/or embellish. In their study, participants were placed in one of four conditions: those who were told they were completing an online dating profile and would have their initial interactions with potential partners via email in the next week; those who were told they were completing an online dating profile and would meet potential dates face-to-face in the next week; those who completed the profile and were not told they would meet a date: and those who filled out a questionnaire with no mention that it was for the purpose of dating. The outcome variables consisted of a Big-5 personality measure and self-reported levels of attractiveness.

Results showed a difference between males and females, in that males changed their personality characteristics (more agreeableness and less neuroticism) and levels of attractiveness when they believed they would meet a date (in both the email interaction and face-to-face interaction conditions). They were more likely to exaggerate both when they were expecting to meet the date via email compared to when they expected to meet the date in person. Therefore, this study demonstrates that not only are there individual differences when it comes to lying, but the mode of communication, as well as the context (whether it is for the purposes of dating),  can influence our propensity to deceive others.


While the cases involving large-scale deception may not be as common as we are led to believe, it is important to remember that deception does occur on online dating platforms. Whether or not lies are told varies both between people and when their purposes for communicating the change (e.g., whether or not it is for dating). These lies are also often intentional, for the express purpose of trying to appear more attractive to potential partners.


Guadagno, R. E., Okdie, B. M., & Kruse, S. A. (2012). Dating deception: Gender, online dating, and exaggerated self-presentation. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2), 642-647.

Hancock, J. T., Toma, C., & Ellison, N. (2007, April). The truth about lying in online dating profiles. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 449-452). ACM.