Communication Currents

Person using a dating app on tablet

What Makes Online Daters Successful?

August 1, 2016
Digital Communication & Gaming, Interpersonal Communication

In recent years, online dating has lost much of its stigma, with 59 percent of Americans surveyed agreeing that online dating is a good way to meet people, according to the Pew Research Center. As online dating has become a more 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?

Crystal D. Wotipka and Andrew C. High of the University of Iowa ask how specific types of content in online dating profiles affect viewers’ impressions and their intentions to contact the profile owner. Wotipka, the lead author of the study, became interested in online dating as a master’s student. “For me, online dating offers an interesting venue in which to study initial communication processes between potential partners because people can use the features of mediated venues to present themselves in ways that are different from face-to-face processes,” she said.

Selective Self-Presentation and Warranting 

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, to increase judgments of trust or profile veracity, online daters rely on strategies such as confirming profile information on external websites, checking for consistency in self-presentation, or comparing photos to written descriptions. To find out whether these practices make online daters successful, Wotipka and High 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 (SSP) has been described as the means by which a communicator is able to convey a desired impression to others. In other words, SSP refers to people’s proclivity to highlight the information they think makes them most desirable. In the context of online dating, people are particularly motivated to present a lot of positive information about themselves, while minimizing negative information—in other words, to brag a little. Because the goal of online dating is to find a potential mate, people avoid blatant lies or deceptions on their profiles, the authors explain. But users do use SSP to build profiles that make them appear more attractive or somehow enhance their status.

Information with warranting value is information that cannot be easily altered or falsified. Prior research contends that information from third parties provided greater warranting value than self-presentation. But traditional dating websites rarely allow access to third parties, such as links to a blog. Thus, warranting one’s online dating profile can simply mean presenting information that seems to be true. A person might warrant their information online 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. Other types of information that might warrant a person’s self-presentation might include a traceable address, link to a public directory, or an external website—and the inclusion of specific, verifiable information such as saying that one weighs “120 pounds” rather than saying one is “slim.” Sharing multiple photographs can also validate revelations made in textual descriptions.

The authors examined how online dating profiles that contain high or low selective self-presentation and high or low warranting evoke impressions of social attraction and trust from profile viewers. In turn, Wotipka and High analyzed whether impressions of trust and social attraction influenced a profile viewer’s intention to contact and date the profile owner.

Online Braggers Don’t Get Dates 

The authors found that participants formed better impressions of profiles that exhibited low selective self-presentation than those with high selective self- presentation. Viewers judged people who bragged about themselves, their looks, or their accomplishments too much as less trustworthy and less socially attractive, thereby lessening their intentions to date or contact the profile owner.

To present profiles that had high warranting value, the authors included links to external sources that could corroborate information, such as a link to a link to a professional biography page maintained by the profile creator’s employer. This strategy helped viewers verify content in a profile, which ultimately increased trust in the information in the profile, but only the profile owner bragged less, or had low selective self-presentation.

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 lowered viewers’ intention to make contact. In other words, braggers don’t get dates.

“Daters should strive to present themselves as a humble, ‘real’ person,” explain the authors, especially if their goal is to establish a long-term relationship based on trust.

About the author (s)

Crystal D. Wotipka

University of Iowa

Ph.D.

Andrew C. High

University of Iowa

Assistant Professor