Garth Sundem

Brain Trust

A Surprising Secret of Attraction

If you want people to swipe right, be "expansive" in your profile picture.

Posted Apr 02, 2016

Phase4Studios/Shutterstock
Source: Phase4Studios/Shutterstock

Psychologists Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick have spent their careers studying romantic attraction. Their studies of speed dating have shown that, due to a phenomenon called embodied cognition, humans are wired to prefer things they approach and so it might be best to arrive at a date first so that the other person approaches you. They've also shown that despite men saying they would prioritize attractiveness, and women saying they would prioritize earning potential in choosing a partner, when it comes to attraction in real-life situations, there's no gender difference at all.

Now Finkel and Eastwick, along with authors from Stanford and Berkeley, have a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It uses speed dating along with Tinder data to show that in the split-second decisions of first impressions, body language matters: "Postural expansiveness—expanding the body in physical space—was most predictive of attraction," they write. In their speed-dating studies, people with expansive rather than "contractive" body language were twice as likely to earn a "yes" from speed dating partners. Tinder agrees: When 3,000 Bay Area users flipped through pictures, they were "significantly more likely" to select pictures of people displaying expansive body language.

Chalk it up to dominance and openness, they say. Our nonverbal behaviors can show our standing in the social hierarchy. "Widespread limbs, a stretched torso, and/or enlargement of the occupied space" are nonverbal cues of dominance and openness and these, in turn, show that a person is high on the social totem pole, they say.

In their experiment of 144 speed dates, expansive body language was even better than gender or commonalities at predicting which couples would connect. People with expansive body language were more likely to be seen as fun, attractive, and having higher earning potential.

Then they launched six people on Tinder. Actually, they launched 12 new profiles, with an "expansive" and a "contractive" picture for each of the otherwise identical six people. How would the same person fare with only the body language of their profile picture changed?

"[P]rofiles featuring pictures in expansive, open postures garnered significantly more 'yes' responses than profile pictures featuring contractive, closed postures. The data also [indicate] that profiles featuring expansive photographs were 27% more likely to elicit a 'yes' response from a given participant."

A third experiment had people rate "dominance" and "openness" in these expansive and contractive postures in Tinder profiles. Sure enough, factors were closely linked with expansive body language, giving us a strong picture not only of the fact that expansive body language leads to romantic attraction, but why: We seek socially dominant partners and body language is an important "tell" in our calculations.

Flickr/Global Panorama
Source: Flickr/Global Panorama

Want to appear attractive on a first date or on Tinder? Here's what the researchers have to say:

"Our current results reveal that people who are seen in expansive, open nonverbal displays enjoy increases in others’ romantic attraction toward them."