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How to Give Yourself the Edge in Your Dating Profile Picture

Enhancing your dating profile picture.

man carried by women
Source: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Your dating profile picture is your "shop window." It is the very first thing other daters see, and if they like what they see, they might investigate further. If they don’t, then they are likely to move on.

The fact is that we form impressions of others very quickly, and these impressions are not only formed from what we see but also established from such cognitive shortcuts as prejudices and stereotypes. For example, people think that the French and Italians are the best lovers (I’m not sure they are) or people wearing spectacles are intelligent (around 14% of all online daters wear specs). Therefore, in order to attract the interest of others, it is important to get your profile picture right.

Clearly, you are going to use what you consider your best photos, but what else should you consider which might give your profile picture the edge?

1. Smile

This should be an obvious one, as people usually look more approachable and friendly when they smile, which is the impression you are trying to create. Use a photo in which you are displaying a genuine smile, referred to as a Duchenne smile. Duchenne or genuine smiles are those which involve the orbicularis oculi muscle, which raises your cheeks and produces wrinkles around your eyes. Fake smiles, on the other hand, generally tend to be lower-face smiles and may also look slightly asymmetrical.

It is quite easy to spot the difference between the two smile types. Surprisingly, however, according to a survey by Dating Scout, only 5% of dating profile pictures of men show them smiling. This may be because men are trying to present their masculine side, preferring not to smile. Indeed, you may consider your best photo is one in which you are not smiling.

Javi-indy /Shutterstock
Woman wearing red
Source: Javi-indy /Shutterstock

2. Wear something red

Red is a colour that has long since been associated with love and passion. In one study, researchers looked at the effects of the colour red on the attractiveness of women. They showed men pictures of women with either a red, white, blue, green, or grey background, finding that the red background led men to judge the women as more attractive (Elliot & Niesta, 2008). In another study in which women wore a red t-shirt, researchers found that men sat closer to them than when they wore a blue t-shirt (Niesta-Kayser, Elliot & Feltman, (2010). Overall then, for women at least, it seems that the colour of clothing is important, and wearing something red in an online dating profile picture might be beneficial, in enhancing your attractiveness.

3. Show your creative side

In terms of illustrating your interests, why not show yourself being creative in your profile picture? For men, creativity is an indicator of creative intelligence, which means they carry good genes. We know that women prefer to have children with men who possess good genes because this means their offspring (by possessing these genes), will be intelligent and therefore have an advantage in life.

Indeed, engaging in a creative activity such as painting pictures, taking photographs, and writing poetry is positively associated with the number of sexual partners for males (Clegg, Nettle & Miell, 2011). Profile pictures displaying creative pursuits are the modern-day human equivalent of a peacock’s tail, which is an indicator of reproductive fitness.

In case you are wondering what types of activities are judged to be most creative, examples are recording music, performing in a band, and taking artistic photos. Those rated as least creative and attractive are interior decorating, making clothes, or carting out everyday domestic chores (Kaufman, Kozbelt, Silva, Kaufman, Ramesh & Feist, 2014). The overall message here is that men who advertise their creative side in their dating site profile make themselves appear more attractive.

Yulia Mayorova/Shutterstock
travel photo
Source: Yulia Mayorova/Shutterstock

4. Create a sense of mystery

Following on from being creative, generating a sense of mystery in your profile picture will leave people wondering and perhaps make them curious about you. A sense of mystery may be conveyed by having unusual interests or being original in some way. The reason why creating a sense of mystery is important is explained by the fact that we are simply intrigued when a person has an unusual interest or hobby and want to find out more (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2020). For example, a profile picture showing travel to somewhere unusual without giving away the precise location, or displaying an unusual skill, may well make people curious and want to discover more.

Some 18% of all profile pictures show daters in the company of other people (Dating Scout). While this conveys the impression that a person is socially competent and comfortable in the company of others, might such pictures have other benefits?

5. Use photos alongside other people

If you do this, then you might first think about how attractive you are compared to the other people in your photo. If you consider yourself to be unattractive, then being viewed in a photo alongside other unattractive people can have the effect of making you appear more attractive than being in a photo alone.

Alternatively, if you consider yourself to be attractive, then being in a photo with less attractive people can make you look less attractive than being in a photo alone (Rodway, Schepman & Lambert, 2013). This is explained by the fact your own attractiveness may be rated in terms of the overall attractiveness rating for the group, referred to as the assimilation effect.

Contrary to the above, the contrast effect suggests that being viewed in a photo alongside attractive people may mean that you are judged as less attractive by comparison. According to this contrast rule, we appear more attractive when viewed in the company of people less attractive but are judged as less attractive when viewed in the company of people more attractive.

Whether the assimilation or contrast effect applies may depend on the size of the difference in attractiveness between you are the other people in your profile.

6. Use photographs with members of the opposite sex

Whether or not we benefit from photographs in the company of others, also depends on our gender and the gender of the person with whom we are pictured.

In contexts where two people of the same gender are seen together, then an assimilation effect applies, with an unattractive person being judged as more attractive when viewed in the company of those more attractive but judged less attractive when they are with others less attractive. However when people of the opposite sex are viewed together, then the same assimilation rule only applies for men, in that they are perceived as being more attractive when seen with attractive women.

Indeed, some men use wing women services, (paying to surround themselves with attractive women) as a way to make them appear more attractive. However, women are unlikely to be viewed as more attractive as a result of being viewed in the company of other attractive men. What matters most for women is how they look.

7. Use photos that include children

Posing in your profile photo with a child could be interpreted as a subtle hint that a person wants children of their own. Some 47% of men and around 53% of women include children in their dating profiles, although this number does decrease with age (Dating Scout).

A study in which women viewed men in different situations, (standing alone, vacuuming a rug, interacting with a child) found that the men viewed interacting with the child were rated as more attractive, than the men in the other conditions. Furthermore, men who were viewed as paying no attention to children wanting attention were rated as less attractive (La Cerra, 1995). This simply means that men who indicate in their dating profiles that they can be good fathers would be rated as more desirable.

Overall then, in your profile picture, it is important to consider how you should look, what you are doing, and who should be with you. Furthermore, be honest and use up-to-date pictures. People will be disappointed if they turn up for a date expecting to meet your younger brother or sister. Finally, don’t try to be something you are not, so no pictures of you playing the guitar while interacting with a child on the flight deck of a 747.


Apostolou M, & Christoforou, C. (2020) The art of flirting: What are the traits that make it effective? Personality and Individual Differences.

Clegg, H., Nettle, D., & Miell, D. (2011) Status and mating success amongst visual artists. Frontiers in Psychology, 21, 310.

Dating Scout ‘Dating Scout Profile Pictures Study’ Retrieved August 1, 2020, from

Elliot, A. J. & Niesta, D. (2008) Romantic red: Red embraces men’s attraction to women Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 1150-1164.

Kaufman, S. B., Kozbelt, A., Silvia, P., Kaufman, J. C., Ramesh, S., & Feist, G. J. (2014) Who finds Bill Gates sexy? Creative mate preferences as a function of cognitive ability, personality, and creative achievement. The Journal of Creative Behaviour, 0, 1-19.

La Cerra, M. M. (1995) Evolved mate preferences in women: Psychological adaptations for assessing a man's willingness to invest in offspring. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 55(9-B), 4149.

Niesta-Kayser, D., Elliot, A. J., & Feltman, R. (2010) Red and romantic behaviour in men viewing women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 901-908.

Rodway, P., Schepman, A., & Lambert, J. (2013) The influence of position and context on facial attractiveness. Acta Psychologica, 144 (3) 522-529.

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