Lies We Tell to Create False First Impressions

With sex on their minds, people say whatever potential partners want to hear.

Posted Feb 12, 2020

A recently published research study exposes the ways in which we filter our opinions, change our attitudes, and flat out lie when we’re chatting with a potential partner. It appears that when you have sex on your mind, you are willing to alter how you present yourself in a dizzying array of ways. First impressions may be calculatingly false impressions when you're trying to impress a potential partner.

In fact, sexual priming—or being exposed to sexually-focused material prior to an interaction with a potential partner—motivates impression management to the extent that we will easily lie to a potential partner. Sexual priming leads us to conform to the views of a potential partner even if we don’t know that person well. We are even more likely to claim a smaller number of prior sexual partners than we’ve actually had when we are talking to someone who we are primed to think might be a sexual partner (Birnbaum & Iluz, & Reis, 2020).

How do you want to be seen?

For the most part, we all want to project a positive image and when it comes to meeting a potential partner, first impressions can matter greatly. Once upon a time, we had to pursue potential partners through face-to-face, unfiltered interactions—except in the case of blind dates. Today, technology lets us shape our personas and identities as we chat up potential partners through a variety of virtual channels.

Online Exaggeration

When we create dating profiles online, the topics that we’re most likely to exaggerate or outright lie about include:

  • Age
  • Relationship status
  • Physical appearance including weight (that’s where women tend to fudge the truth), height (that’s where men tend to stretch the truth), and physical features (using older or retouched photos, which everyone seems to do)

We stretch the truth or selectively present information in order to appear more appealing to the types of partners we are trying to attract. If we think the women we’re trying to attract are romantics, we say we love moonlight walks in fields of clover. If we think the men we desire watch hockey, we might list a hometown team as our favorite. We play to our imagined audience in order to woo individuals we not only haven’t met, but who are probably as guilty of falsified truths about themselves as we are ourselves tend to be.

Most admit to stretching the truth—and knowing that we are actually doing it, we are much more judgmental when someone misrepresents themselves to us. In fact, regardless of whether or not we’ve been deceptive in our own profile, if we go out on a date and find that the person has deceived us online, we are definitely less likely to agree to a second date (Sharabi & Caughlin, 2019).

Of course, while online profiles and Photoshop let us morph ourselves into what we consider ideal version of ourselves, there are myriad methods of improving our physical bodies if we have the desire or the cash. We can carefully select the clothing we wear; artfully apply make-up; follow weight loss plans; bulk up, tighten up, or slim down at the gym; and invest in cosmetic surgery, hair transplant procedures, and cosmetic dentistry. Changing our appearance for the better is achievable, though at some cost, if it is what is truly desired. However, many of us are satisfied Photoshopping out pounds or airbrushing away the wrinkles and double chins. Putting your best face forward can require a significant outlay of cash.

Aside from appearance, what other lies do we tell?

When it comes to romantic or sexual attraction, we are often eager to tell the object of our desire exactly what we think they want to hear. When our brains are clouded by desire, political conservatives may find themselves claiming to hold remarkably liberal views. When we’re driven by our basic instincts, we will agree to things and readily shift our opinions if we think these actions will get us what we want. For the long haul, it’s true that we fare better in relationships with people who are similar to us in appearance, attitudes, and beliefs, but if short-term gratification is what we’re after, lies, prevarication, and inauthentic behaviors are not unusual.

Share your own experiences about truths and untruths in relationships via this survey on modern romance. Just follow this link: Truth & Honesty in Relationships.


Birnbaum, G. E., Iluz, M., & Reis, H. T. (2020). Making the right first impression: Sexual priming encourages attitude change and self-presentation lies during encounters with potential partners. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 86.

Sharabi, L. L., & Caughlin, J. P. (2019). Deception in online dating: Significance and implications for the first offline date. New Media & Society, 21(1), 229–247.