How Online Dating Profiles Can Affect Dates
The Pew Research Center reports that nearly half of all 18- to 29-year-olds have used an online dating site or app. During the COVID-19 pandemic, online and virtual dates have become particularly important because many people cannot connect in person. Thus, it is important to consider how the information that people reveal in their online dating profiles can affect face-to-face interactions. In a new article published in NCA’s Communication Monographs, Liesel L. Sharabi uses uncertainty reduction theory (URT), which postulates that people want to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity, to examine how online dating profiles affect people’s satisfaction with face-to-face interactions and their desire for future interactions with another person.
According to URT, people want information about partners or possible partners that will help them reduce uncertainty about interactions and initiate relationships. There are four types of information-seeking strategies: passive, such as observation; active, such as asking a third party about a potential partner; interactive, such as question asking; and extractive, such as internet searches. Online dating profiles would be considered a passive method of information seeking. Online dating profiles help reduce uncertainty because users provide a lot of information, so people can learn more about their potential date before they ever meet in person.
Sharabi investigates how impressions from online profiles affect in-person interactions during a first date. Specifically, the study looks at how viewing a profile affects nonverbal communication during face-to-face interactions, how it affects information-seeking behavior (e.g., asking questions), and how it affects disclosure of information. Sharabi also considers how profiles affect the outcome of the date, including communication satisfaction (how positively participants felt about the interaction) and desire for future interaction. Finally, Sharabi examines whether individuals feel that they are similar to one another and the effects of such similarity.
Sharabi recruited 108 cross-sex pairs at a large public U.S. university. The average age of the participants was about 20 years old. Nearly 91 percent were straight, while about 5 percent were bisexual and 4 percent did not disclose their sexual orientation. The majority of participants were white (71.3 percent), 12 percent identified as “other,” 7.4 percent were African American, 5.1 percent were Asian American, and 0.5 percent were Native American or Pacific Islander. Just over half (54.6 percent) of participants were single, 14.4 percent were casually dating, 28.2 percent were in serious relationships, and 2.8 percent were engaged or married. Approximately 39 percent of the participants had previous online dating experience.
During the first phase of the experiment, the participants filled out a survey as they would an online dating profile and were told that the information would be shared with their partner during the experiment. The survey responses were then placed into a template similar to what one would find on an online dating site.
In the second phase of the experiment, participants arrived at the lab and either received their partner’s dating profile or received a few facts about their partner, similar to what would be provided before a “blind date.” Participants were instructed to think of their partner as someone they would like to date and then had a seven-minute, recorded interaction with their partner in a mock living room. Then, they completed a survey.
Data indicate that overall women had more uncertainty than men and were less eager to communicate before the date. Analyses also indicate that an individual’s increased eagerness to communicate was associated with increased satisfaction and desire for future interaction. For women (but not for men), viewing a profile strengthened their eagerness to communicate on their communication satisfaction. However, when a woman’s partner was more eager to communicate than they were, this negatively affected the woman’s desire for future interaction.
Regarding the “first date,” as positive nonverbal communication, such as eye contact, increased, participants’ communication satisfaction and desire for future interaction increased. Likewise, when partners engaged in positive nonverbal communication, communication satisfaction also increased.
Furthermore, viewing the profile strengthened the effect of a partner’s nonverbal communication on communication satisfaction. Information seeking also resulted in increased satisfaction and desire for future interaction. When women viewed the profile prior to the date, it strengthened the effect of their partner’s information-seeking behavior on women’s communication satisfaction. However, for men, profile viewing weakened the effects of a partner’s information seeking on communication satisfaction and desire for future interaction.
As an individual’s self-disclosure increased, their communication satisfaction and desire for future interaction also increased. When partners disclosed more, individuals reported a greater desire for future interaction. Viewing the profile strengthened the effect of disclosure on communication satisfaction, but it also weakened the effect of a partner’s disclosure on the desire for future interaction for women. Uncertainty after the date negatively affected communication satisfaction and the desire for future interaction; in other words, when individuals had lingering uncertainty, they were less likely to be satisfied or to want to interact further. Similarity between participants also increased satisfaction and the desire for future interaction. Viewing the online profile also strengthened the effects of similarity and communication satisfaction after the date.
Sharabi suggests that online daters may use face-to-face interactions to confirm or deny impressions they glean from online profiles. This study found that profiles were generally beneficial for participants, demonstrating that this additional information can be an advantage in dating. According to Sharabi, “in combination with FtF [face-to-face] communication, profiles may help to provide a more complete picture of a partner. This raises the possibility that profiles may be accelerating relationship initiation through their effects on initial FtF interaction.”