How Honest Are People in Online Dating Profiles?

A new study reveals that 70 percent of singles see photo filters as deceptive.

Posted Sep 17, 2019

Conflict of Interest Statement: In all research consultations in which I engage, I operate as an independent evaluator and strive to make recommendations and conclusions in an unbiased, ethical and professional manner. That said, it is ethically warranted that I disclose conflicts of interest when present. In this case, I was a paid research consultant on the Pressure Points study by Plenty of Fish, as well as a spokesperson to describe the study findings to the media.

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Online dating is one of the most common ways to find a mate in the U.S. today. According to a 2019 study of over 1,200 participants by Statista, 17 percent of respondents met a romantic partner on a dating app and 30 percent knew someone else who had. 

As online dating becomes more commonplace, the company Plenty of Fish recently conducted a research study called Pressure Points (2019) to understand the pressures associated with online dating, focusing on how authentic and honest people are when looking for a mate. The sample consisted of 2000 single adults in the U.S. With an almost equal distribution of men and women, participants averaged 48 years old (all were 18+) and were mostly White (68 percent), straight (85 percent), and single/never been married (64 percent) with a relatively wide range of income (under 30k to over 150k).  

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Data from this study suggest that many singles feel pressured to present themselves in an overly positive light, reflecting “the ideal” when dating. For example, 60 percent of millennial women (current age 24-34) feel pressure to appear “perfect.” In particular, singles reported feeling pressure to embellish their interests and hobbies, looks/physical appearance, and level of education. Almost half of the study participants (47 percent) wished they felt less pressure to appear perfect when dating. 

One of the most important findings from this study is that the large majority of participants think some commonplace online dating practices are deceptive. For example, 70 percent of the sample considered it deceptive to use face filters, with 52 percent saying they strongly or somewhat agree that photo editing should be banned from online dating.

In fact, 30 percent of singles reported not pursing communication with someone on a dating app because their photos were too heavily edited. When asked to elaborate, about 25 percent of the sample reported that seeing a face filter implies that someone is pretending to be someone they are not; 23 percent said that the person seems insecure, and 16 percent perceive face filters to reflect superficiality. 

Despite the fact that many online dating practices are seen as deceptive, the large majority of singles from this sample would like more honest, real information—both from potential partners and in their own self-presentation. For example, 70 percent of study participants reported that they want their online profile to be more reflective of their true self; 77 percent want to find a partner who loves and accepts them for who they are; and 84 percent would rather have someone be honest online than paint an overly positive picture. 

In response to these data, Plenty of Fish announced on September 17, 2019, that it is banning face filters from online dating profile photos in hopes that users will engage in more honest, authentic discourse. 

The Naked Truth

As is true for in-person dating interactions, online dating can be challenging. In this sample, 62 percent reported that they have taken a break from dating at some point in their life because they wanted to focus on other areas of life (52 percent) or themselves (47 percent). In any dating format—in-person, online, or in-app—people are likely to present themselves in a positive light. This makes sense; when we meet someone new, we want to put our best foot forward. That is not necessarily negative—it is hard to be vulnerable and honest until you develop some understanding and trust in another person.

That said, these data suggest that there is a great deal of pressure for singles to present themselves in “a perfect, idealized way” that is not consistent with who they feel they really are. If the goal of dating is to meet someone and find a meaningful connection, presenting oneself in a more authentic way in an online dating profile (both in photos and in the description) will likely lead to better connection with the kinds of people you want to meet.