Tinder Typos: How Language Errors Influence Attractiveness
Scientists test whether mechanical and language errors decrease dating appeal.
Posted May 31, 2020
More of us are searching for partners on dating apps than ever before. Even as we shelter in place we can browse Bumble or Tinder for our next virtual date. It's much safer than crowding into a bar in hopes of meeting The One.
In some ways, searching for a partner on an app rather than in real life isn’t all that different. In both cases, our first impressions are based on appearance. That’s why we make such an effort to take and upload flattering photos to our profiles. But one obvious way in which the process differs from a face-to-face encounter is that dating profiles typically include a written element.
I don’t know about you, but I have never attempted to catch someone’s eye at a party, sauntered over, and then presented them with a typed-out summary of the reasons I should be considered a catch. And yet that is exactly what we are expected to do on dating apps. The problem: Not everyone is an expert writer. When you’re on a first date, flirting over a glass of wine in a swanky restaurant, nobody cares (or can tell) if you mistake “your” for “you’re." On a dating app it might be the reason your (you’re?) profile is swiped left or right.
A team of psychologists from Tilburg University in the Netherlands recently ran a series of experiments to find out how important it is to craft an error-free dating profile. Previous research has shown that typos and other writing mistakes make a writer seem less attentive, intelligent, and socially competent. Could they also affect perceptions of attractiveness?
The scientists paired up with Parship, a popular dating site. Active users went sent an email inviting them to participate in the experiment.
Over 350 volunteers were shown profiles with or without textual errors, and with or without the associated photographs blurred. The volunteers rated the appeal of each profile in four ways: physical attractiveness, social attractiveness, romantic attractiveness, and desire to date the person.
Profiles with textual errors were rated lower in social and romantic attractiveness, but not in physical attractiveness or desirability as a dating partner. Why the disparity? It could be that social and romantic attractiveness depend more upon personality and non-physical attributes, and these are the attributes that are negatively impacted by textual errors.
The scientists had also predicted that any effect of the errors would be weakened by the presence of a photograph, the idea being that we rely more on textual information if we have no other information about a person to go on — in this case, how they look. However, this prediction was not supported. Textual errors negatively impact ratings of a person’s social and romantic attractiveness regardless of whether the rater knows what the person looks like.
In a second study, the researchers tested whether different types of errors had different effects on attractiveness. Mechanical errors (e.g. typing “teh” instead of “the”) don’t imply that a person is bad at spelling, but rather that they didn’t notice — or didn’t care — that they made a mistake. Rule-based errors (such as writing, “My friends and me like to play sports” instead of “My friends and I…”) suggest that a person doesn’t know the correct rule.
Another group of volunteers viewed profiles with the different types of error, or with no errors. Again, they rated the profiles for attractiveness.
As expected, the volunteers rated profiles as higher in romantic and social attractiveness — and also expressed a greater willingness to date profile owners — when they contained no errors. Further analysis revealed that mechanical errors decreased attractiveness because they suggested the writer was inattentive. Rule-based errors decreased attractiveness because they suggested the writer was low in intelligence.
Those of you who are now inclined to proof-read your Tinder bios may be encouraged by another of the psychologists’ findings: After the experiment was over, only a third of the volunteers admitted that they had noticed any mistakes in the profiles they had read. Obviously, a typo can only affect your attractiveness when your match knows that you made a mistake.
The research team suggests that future studies could test how first impressions are affected by other linguistic elements of a dating profile, “such as the order in which topics in a profile are mentioned, usage of dialect, or word and sentence complexity."
Van der Zanden, T., Schouten, A. P., Mos, M. B. J., & Krahmer, E. J. (2019). Impression formation on online dating sites: Effects of language errors in profile texts on perceptions of profile owners’ attractiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(3), 758-778. doi:10.1177/0265407519878787