As online dating has become a widely accepted way to attract possible romantic partners, scholars have been taking a closer look at the practice. What makes an online dater successful? Do the same factors that make face-to-face relationships successful also apply in the online dating world?
A new study recently published in the National Communication Association's journal Communication Monographs asks how specific types of content in online dating profiles affect viewers' impressions of the profile owner and their intentions to act on what they've seen by contacting the profile owner for a date.
When it comes to online dating, people are often told to highlight their best qualities. They emphasize their most favorable physical characteristics and personality traits. And, according to past research, providing corroborating evidence for the information on a profile can increase trust. To find out whether these two practices made online daters successful, Crystal D. Wotipka and Andrew C. High of The University of Iowa asked 316 online daters what they thought of particular profiles.
Participants were presented with one of four sample online dating profiles that exhibited different types of content development by the profile "owner." Wotipka and High looked specifically at the effects of two concepts: selective-self presentation and warranting. Selective self-presentation is people's ability to highlight the most flattering information to others. In the context of online dating, where the goal is to attract a partner, people are motivated to present a lot of positive information about themselves while minimizing negative information -- or in other words, to brag a little. People can "warrant" their online dating profiles, explain the authors, by providing access to corroborating sites -- for example, a link to a professional biography page or the name of a blog to which they regularly contribute.
The authors examined how online dating profiles that contain high or low selective self-presentation and high or low warranting align with impressions of social attraction and trust from profile viewers. Wotipka and High also analyzed whether impressions of trust and social attraction influenced a profile viewer's intention to contact and date the profile owner.
The authors found viewers judged people who were perceived as overly bragging about themselves, their looks, or their accomplishments as less trustworthy and less socially attractive, thereby lessening viewer's intentions to date or contact those profile owners.
To present profiles that had high warranting value, the authors included links to external sources of information in the manipulated profiles that could corroborate information, such as a link to a professional biography page maintained by the profile creator's employer. This strategy helped viewers to verify content in a profile, which ultimately increased trust in the information on the profile, but only when people bragged less.
When combined, low selective self-presentation and high warranting made people "seem honest as well as humble and approachable," wrote the authors. However, perhaps one of the most interesting findings in the study is that profiles exhibiting both high self-selective presentation and high warranting were perceived as arrogant or immodest, which lessened viewers' intention to contact them. In other words, braggers don't get dates.
"Daters should strive to present themselves as humble, 'real' people," explain the authors, especially if their goal is to establish a long-term relationship based on trust.
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Wotipka, C. D., & High, A. C. (2016). An idealized self or the real me? Predicting attraction to online dating profiles using selective self-presentation and warranting. Communication Monographs, 1-22.