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Online Daters Look for 'Real' Partners

Online Daters Look for ‘Real’ Partners

New research has determined that people using online dating services prefer a partner who appears successful, but also humble and real.

University of Iowa investigators found that daters were less likely to trust a person with a flashy and/or perfect profile.

“We found people want to contact a person who appears to be accurate in what they are saying about themselves online,” said Dr. Andy High, assistant professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Communication Studies and corresponding author of the study.

“It’s tough when it comes to dating profiles because we want someone who seems like an amazing person, but we also hopefully will have a relationship with this individual, so we want them to exist.”

As many as one in 10 Americans age 18 and older use online dating sites or a mobile dating app, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center.

High and graduate student Crystal Wotipka, lead author of the study, wanted to know how people who use these sites respond to different ways people present themselves online.

What they discovered is most people in their study were drawn to individuals whose profiles were positive but not over-the-top glowing.

More important, however, participants preferred people whose online persona could be clearly traced to a real person. That means people want details, not broad generalities, especially about where a prospective love interest works and what he or she does for a living.

“Instead of just saying, ‘I write a blog,’ name the blog and encourage people to check it out,” High said.

“If you work for a company, name the company. … If you can name something or provide people with a link to get there, then do it.

“The idea is the viewer will think this is a real person,” he said.

High and Wotipka presented their preliminary findings in November 2014 at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association.

In today’s environment, personal profiles are not just for romantic pursuit.

Online profiles are used for networking, advancement, and business opportunities. LinkenIn, a business-oriented social networking service shares the profile of more than 332 million participants.

High said previous research on online dating has focused on how people present themselves in their profiles. Those studies found that some people tend to exaggerate or lie about themselves and their accomplishments.

High and Wotipka took a different tack in this study, studying online dating from the point of view of the person sorting through the profiles.

“We wondered, ‘What do people like in a dating profile?'” Wotipka said. “‘Whom are they most likely to contact? Whom are they most interested in meeting?'”

To do this, they created eight online dating profiles — four men and four women — with various combinations of two perspectives.

One perspective is called “Selective Self-Presentation,” or what the researchers refer to as SSP, which is a profile that highlights only what’s “good” about a person and downplays the rest.

The other is called “Warranting,” which is a profile that contains information easily traced to a real person.

Once the profiles were created in a template from OKCupid — a free, online dating service — they were shown to 317 adults who said they were using or had used an online dating service. There were 150 men and 167 women, and the mean age was 40.

Participants were asked to judge the profiles and decide which ones they would contact.

Researchers expected that profiles that were presented with high selective self-presentation (those who sounded perfect) and high warranting (those who provided specifics that could be traced to a real person) would be the most popular.

They were wrong.

“I thought people would think, ‘Not only is this person the greatest in the world, but they’re real, too. Wow!’ but I was wrong,” Wotipka said.

“It was the low SSP” and high warranting “that ended up winning out.”

In other words, people were turned off by profiles that sounded too good to be true. This was especially true for viewers who said they preferred online social interaction. Researchers found the more specific information a profile contained that could be traced to a real person, the more the viewer trusted the profile.

“Users of online dating sites are aware that people misrepresent themselves, and inaccurate profiles are one of the biggest drawbacks to using online dating sites,” the study said.

High says the key to creating an attractive online dating profile is balance.

“You want to balance all that is wonderful about yourself with some things that aren’t negative, but more humble or realistic about yourself.

“It’s important to put your best foot forward,” he said, “but maybe not in your best pair of shoes.”

Source: University of Iowa

Online Daters Look for ‘Real’ Partners

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Online Daters Look for ‘Real’ Partners. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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