Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Science of Online Dating

Research can help daters know what to post, what to look for, and who to pick.

Key points

  • Online dating can feel confusing and overwhelming, but there are ways to make it easier and more successful.
  • Finding the right partner begins before one even opens an app. Understand the self to identify better matches.
  • Profile pictures matter. Recent and more accurate photos can help avoid disappointment.
  • Someone's profile will be instantly more appealing if they highlight their ability to be a great partner.
What can science teach you about online dating success?
Source: Cottonbro/Pexels

Dating has changed. Apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Zoosk, OkCupid, CoffeeMeetsBagel, and Match have become embedded in the dating process.

There are many potential partners and a lot to manage. It’s a bit overwhelming, especially if you haven’t dated recently. According to Pew Research, 79 percent of recent dating app users were excited by the potential partners they’ve seen on the app. This sounds promising, but the same sample also found that 88 percent were disappointed with the potential options.

It’s a lot to navigate and can lead to feelings of “dating app burnout.”

There’s some recent research that can make dating easier and more successful.

Why do people use online dating?

A series of in-depth interviews revealed that a key reason for online dating is getting a lot of dating experience quickly (Sharabi, 2023). One person characterized it as “training wheels” to help them warm up to dating and learn what they wanted. But there are risks. Others said they relied too heavily on online strategies, which led to them missing out on real-life opportunities. Goals changed over time (e.g., wanting short vs. long-term relationships), and many users had a “download and delete” experience where they went on the apps (typically several at a time) for a while, deleted them, and then tried again.

There are so many potential partners on these apps. How can I know who to pick and who to avoid?

Finding the right partner starts before you even click on a dating app. Research suggests the key is being clear and confident about who you are as a person (Kubin et al., 2024). In other words, you need to know yourself. When you have high self-concept clarity, you will have an easier time identifying which partners are a good match for you based on their personality qualities, hobbies, interests, and values.

Need to boost your clarity and self-understanding? These 36 questions can help.

I want to make my dating profile more appealing. What’s an underrated quality that can help?

Typically, people write profiles focusing on what they’re looking for in a partner. When researchers looked at profiles from Match and Coffee Meets Bagel, they found that most people say they’re looking for a partner who will listen to them and support them (Schroeder & Fishbach, 2024). That’s fair, but there’s a missing ingredient.

People rarely mention that they can fulfill those roles for their partner. Research indicates that potential partners rate dating profiles that emphasize a desire for deeper emotional connection, strong listening abilities, and a supportive nature as significantly more attractive.

Here’s some specific wording to highlight your ability to be a great partner:

  • “My friends all say that I’m a great listener.”
  • “I’m curious about your life experiences and want to learn about your interests, values, and ambitions.”
  • “I’ll be your strongest supporter and advocate.”

Should you post your “best” pictures or more current and realistic pictures?

A major milestone in online dating is the first face-to-face meet-up. That’s when you see what the other person really looks like. In a sample of those who got married or engaged following online dating, “Nearly all participants reported that their partner either met or surpassed what they envisioned” (Sharabi, 2023).

There’s a lesson there: Successful couples weren’t let down by meeting an unrecognizable person. As one participant stated, “He was even more good-looking than I had imagined.” That’s a far better experience than witnessing the other person’s disappointment when you don’t match your profile pictures. That said, participants were tolerant of minor variations (e.g., slight weight differences). But overall, you’re better off sharing a recent picture showing the real you, not an unrealistic version of you from the past.

Is there a way to tell from pictures in a guy’s profile if he wants a real relationship?

A study found that men displayed different pictures depending on the type of relationship they wanted (Zinck et al., 2022). Men seeking long-term mates displayed dependents in their pictures more frequently than men seeking short-term relationships. This pattern was mostly thanks to guys posting pictures with their dogs.

What are women actually looking for in a partner?

To answer that, a global survey of 20,000 single women aged 18 to 67 across 150 countries assessed various traits such as attractiveness, education, financial security, intelligence, kindness, success, and supportiveness (Botzet et al., 2023).

The number-one quality women desired? Kindness. Across all ages, women wanted a nice, kind, and supportive partner.

Does starting a relationship online lead to worse or lower-quality relationships later on?

No. In fact, research finds that participants believed starting their marriage online encourages self-disclosure, which led to building the relationship on emotional intimacy (vs. physical intimacy) (Sharabi, 2023). Participants also thought meeting online helped them make better partner choices because they weren’t relying on circumstances (e.g., people they met in their day-to-day life), which gave them a larger pool to choose from and allowed them not to lower their standards.


Botzet, L. J., Shea, A., Vitzthum, V. J., Druet, A., Sheesley, M., & Gerlach, T. M. (2023). The link between age and partner preferences in a large, international sample of single women. Human Nature, 34(4), 539–568.

Kubin, D., Kreitewolf, J., & Lydon, J. E. (2024). Ruling out potential dating partners: The role of self-concept clarity in initial romantic partner evaluations. Self and Identity.

Pew Research Center (2023). From Looking for Love to Swiping the Field: Online Dating in the U.S.

Schroeder, J., & Fishbach, A. (2024). Feeling known predicts relationship satisfaction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 111.

Sharabi, L. L. (2023). The enduring effect of Internet Dating: Meeting online and the Road to marriage. Communication Research, 009365022211274.

Zinck, M. J., Weir, L. K., & Fisher, M. L. (2022). Dependents as signals of mate value: Long-term mating strategy predicts displays on online dating profiles for men. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 8(2), 174–188.

More from Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today