The Psychology of Online Dating: The Psychologist’s Viewpoint

Psychologists interested in dating and attraction have learned a great deal by reading and examining the personal advertisements and ‘lonely hearts’ pages of local and national newspapers. Since we psychologists have benefited from the people who use these services it seems only right that some of the things we’ve found should be given back. In this series of articles I will outline some of the more practically useful findings that have come from this research and provide a summary of the results reported in academic psychology journals, written for those who probably have the greatest interest in this knowledge: the daters themselves.

There is quite a bit of material to cover so I have organised it into a series of six articles:

The Psychologist’s Viewpoint

This article gives an idea of the scope of research using personal advertisements, the way personal profiles are used in research, and the kind of things psychologists can find out when they put their minds to it.

He wants and she is

This outlines research into the things that men say they are looking for in a partner. Alongside this we look at how women describe themselves. Combining these we can assess how accurately women understand what men want and use the right kind of language to attract a man’s interest. This one is particularly useful for the girls and should help you write something for the ‘in your own words’ bit of your profile.

She wants and he is

This article gives the opposite perspective to the previous one, looking at the things that women say they want in a partner and the way that men describe themselves. Do these match up? Have men got it right or are they missing the point completely? This one might help the boys rethink the content of their ‘own words’ parts of their dating profiles.

Like for Like or Opposites Attract?

This article summarises the results in the previous two and uses these to outline the current psychological theories of attraction. It explains how ‘like attracts like’ and ‘opposites attract’ can both be true and how this can help you when you are first making contact with someone after reading their profile.

Blitzers, Boasters and Being Choosy

This article looks at research into general approaches to dating including the results found by researchers who experimentally placed different versions of personal advertisements and then sat back to see how many and what kind of responses they got.

Summary and Practical Uses

The final article of this series summarises all that has gone before and places this new knowledge firmly in the context of online dating, describing how these results can be constructively used to make fewer mistakes and to improve your chances of attracting responses to your profile and getting a positive response to your first approach to someone.

Before getting into the results of the research we need to take a brief tour around the ways in which research psychologists use personal advertisements and the kinds of things they can find, so we have some idea of the sort of things that psychologists can and cannot say about personal advertisements and internet dating profiles.

Content Analysis

Personal advertisements have been a rich source of information for social scientists investigating dating behaviours. To give an idea of the scale of this enterprise, my own research in this area is based on the analysis of nearly five thousand advertisements collected from UK local newspapers. Apart from this I have copies of more than sixty research reports published by colleagues in Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Japan, Poland, UK and USA. This adds up to about thirty thousand individual profiles that have been analysed by psychologists, sociologists and other professional researchers. Most of this research has used printed personal ads extracted from newspapers and magazines as these are more useful to us (as explained below) but the information and insights gained can be applied to any situation where first impressions come from written descriptions, so these results are directly relevant and useful to people using internet dating sites.

Creating a profile for an internet dating site usually involves describing yourself on a whole host of listed options such as eye colour (blue, green etc.), smoking habit, attractiveness, salary etc. This information is usually entered into the site using a form. Within this form each person makes their own choices from the options available but because it is a form, everyone has to mention the same kinds of things. In a sense, the dating site has already decided what the important features are and you simply tick the correct boxes when describing yourself and describing the sort of person you want to meet.

With printed personal advertisements there is no detailed form to fill in and you can write whatever you want. The only restriction is on the number of words with an escalating charge per word up to a maximum limit. As a result these advertisements are quite short, averaging about 22 words. This is typically enough space to mention about nine things, whether these are your own attributes (age, hair and eye colour, looks) or things you are looking for in a partner (sense of humour, marital status, age range, personality, height). Given these restrictions we can reasonably expect that people mention the most important things as they see it, so the content of these advertisements tell us what characteristics the writers think are important to the other sex, and what key things they are looking for themselves. For example, a personal advertisement that says “Stunning, curvy and adventurous 22 year old blonde female is looking for a financially secure older man, ideally with own hair and teeth, who will spoil her rotten.” gives a pretty clear indication of what matters to this person and what she is offering in return.

Researchers have taken thousands of personal advertisements and analysed them to look for general patterns. From this, they have identified some very clear differences between the kinds of things that are important to men and women when looking for a partner. They have also looked at how well the self descriptions of each sex matches the features that the other sex says they want, giving an indication of how much each sex understands about what the other sex is looking for. Results from this kind of research are discussed in the articles He wants and she is, and She wants and he is.

Apart from the specific attributes and features mentioned, there are also more general differences in how people write these descriptions. For example women tend to give more detailed information about the sort of person they are looking for than men, while men are more focussed on describing themselves. Looking at a profile from this perspective tells us quite a lot about the approach people take to dating, including whether they are looking for a few high quality matches or just want as many dates as they can possibly get. This research is summarised in the article Blitzers, Boasters and Being Choosy.

Knowing how people describe themselves and the sort of thing they are looking for also allows us to look at broader questions such as whether people are looking for others who are similar to themselves or would prefer a partner who is different but, in some sense, complementary. This is discussed in the article Like for Like or Opposites Attract where we find that both are true once we understand a more basic and useful theory of attraction.

Experimental Research

Apart from examining the advertisements that real people have written in the hope of finding a partner, psychologists have occasionally become active researchers and have placed experimental personal advertisements to see how many and what type of response they get. For example, if two almost identical advertisements are placed and one receives twice as many responses as the other, this tells us that the difference between these ads (which may be as small as one word) has a big effect on the chances of attracting a date.

Some psychologists have also used this type of research to investigate the sort of things that men and women write when responding to an advertisement. This has given researchers another way to classify the different approaches to dating and to identify groups such as the ‘blitzers’ who send responses to everyone in the hope that some of them will score a hit. Results from this experimental research are presented in the article Blitzers, Boasters and Being Choosy.

This article has outlined the organisation and content of this series, has introduced the ways in which psychologists approach dating research, and has indicated the sort of things they may be able to see from their viewpoint as researchers.

In the next article we move on to looking at some actual findings. He wants and she is looks at the features that women tend to emphasis when advertising themselves, the things that men are actually looking for, and whether or not womens’ self descriptions suggest they are marketing themselves well and have an accurate insight into what men want.

Online Dating – Potential Dangers and Disasters

You’ve just clicked the last box in the long list of procedures to join XYZ online dating service, confident that everything you put in your profile was exactly as you wanted. You double checked, didn’t you?

Oops, you accidentally left in some key information that will make you readily identifiable to all your friends, family and co-workers. Now everybody will know about your absolute sheer desperation to find a partner.

Or worse! You put on your profile a photograph of yourself, half-plastered with alcohol at the last Christmas party, lipstick smeared across your cheeks (I haven’t mentioned any gender here, so whatever pictures you have in your mind are entirely your input).

So, you see. This is a potential minefield…and we haven’t even been out on our first date yet, have we?

But don’t despair or feel that the cat is out of the bag. You can always go back to the profile and change the details/remove the photos/delete your entire account if you are scared enough.

But let’s be serious here for a moment. In the following paragraphs I’m going to go through the three most apparent “dangers” of Internet dating.

The Stalker

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. I will put this horrible creature at the top of the list. We have all heard the horrifying stories that have often ended in tragedy. Even murder. Quite often these terrible events have come after encounters on the more “adult-oriented” sites. Perhaps a threesome has become a deadly game filled with jealousy and hatred, after what seemed to be such a cool idea at the time.

Even on a more mundane level, there are nutters out there who have harassed poor women (and men) to the point of psychological breakdown. Yep, it happens.

But, there are ways to avoid this. These guidelines, by no means a definitive list, are especially relevant for women and may help you in a tricky situation.

  1. Never put direct contact details in a profile. Most dating sites will not allow this anyway, as long as their screening procedures are up to standard.
  2. Make sure your first meetings are in well-patronized areas, like a food-court in a shopping mall, or some other busy place. That way, if the man/woman turns out to be less than what you hoped for, you can blend into the crowd before slipping away.
  3. If you feel nervous, take along someone you know and trust well and have them observe you from a distance. You won’t believe how much more confident this makes some women feel.
  4. Don’t give your phone number to your new online friend until you feel it is safe to do so. When is this? Certainly not after date number one.
  5. This may sound drastic, but keep some form of protection (in addition to condoms!) in your handbag (mace, capsicum spray, a very loud alarm device) in case you find yourself alone and in an intimidating environment. In the same vein, go and get some self-defense lessons – it will keep you fit and desirable as well as give you valuable knowledge about groin attacks and the like!

The Don Juan Crook

These are men, nine times out of ten, and there are more and more stories of these guys emerging every day.

This is where a super-charmer convinces their new date/partner that they are world-famous, super successful and know all the celebrities. For some reason or other, all their funds are tied up in something, and they cannot get their hands on ready cash for day-to-day living, or for some other “sure-fire” investment.

Before you know it. Mr or Mrs Gullible Internet Dater have handed over their bank account details, credit cards, or even packed the rolls of cash into the suitcase before driving Don Juan to the airport and kissing him good-bye as he boards the plane for Rio!

How do you avoid these crooks? It can be difficult for lonely folks, especially widows and widowers (beware the female black spider!), so the best advice here is to enlist a friend or two to give you an absolutely candid appraisal of your new-found Prince/Princess Charming.

The Dishonest Dating Site with Fake Members

This problem had a bit of press in Australia recently. I won’t name the actual site, but the owners were punished by the courts and made to apologize to their members.

Sadly, it can be hard to spot the fake profiles, sometimes answering you via sophisticated software programs, or even by real people paid to pretend they are someone else (backpackers in Australia, for instance).

If you aren’t careful, these pseudo-daters can waste a lot of your valuable time and money.

The best way to avoid being scammed in this way is to ask specific questions that only a real person would know the answers to. For example, ask about current events in your local area. If they can’t or won’t answer, you might be dealing with a robot!

However, in my opinion, Internet dating is a great option in today’s fast-paced world. People are time poor, and lack the freedom to socialize they way it used to be in the “good old days’.

Online daters just need to be alert to the potential dangers, and take the appropriate steps to minimize the damage.

Happy dating!

Major Online Dating Sites

What makes certain online dating sites better than the others? There are many dating websites out there yet as with many things, there are always the most popular ones. What makes the major online dating sites so popular? Some of these top ones include Koopa.com, OKCupid.com, PlentyofFish.com (Pof), and CasualKiss.com.

Well, one of the main reasons is that they are free. They don’t charge a fee for you to sign up and start finding people you want to get to know. Like the others, many of them help match you up with people who have the same interests, goals, likes, and dislikes. But the major online dating sites also allow you to find people who may not be recommended by the sites. Crazy as it seems, many sites match your profile to other profiles but you can’t customize your search and pair yourself up on your own. But the major Internet dating sites that are so popular allow you this flexibility and option. In other words, you aren’t limited.

Community is a huge factor in the success of top free online dating sites. Koopa offers a great community. Sense of community is also known as a psychological sense of community and users want to belong to a group where they feel a strong part of. Community allows them to be free to be themselves as well as be amongst others who can have that same freedom and be appreciated for who they are. Community is about acceptance and feeling like being in a big (or small) family. The group, or community, that you belong to is all dependent on you. And the top sites allow this.

Koopa is excellent in not limiting their users and visitors. The Koopa community allows you to be as social as you wish. You can use the free site strictly for online dating, for finding new and old friends, and for networking and finding business collaborations. Whether you upload photos and content to find your perfect match for dating or for business ventures and goals, that is up to you. You can create posts, questions, and content to assist you in your online dating and social networking with Koopa.

Plenty of Fish, or Pof, gives online dating site users a chemistry test to take. Their goal is to help registered users discover and list their emotional needs in order to develop long term, fulfilling relationships as their emotional needs will be met. Pof also helps you to discover your relationship needs. Many relationship sites don’t offer this.

OkCupid, like Koopa, allows for a mix. You can stir up your online dating and social networking. The unique thing about OkCupid is that you can be matched or NOT matched to anyone even if they are considered to be your Friend, Partner, or Enemy. Yes, you can even choose to be matched to your Enemy.

So there you have a few reasons why the major online dating sites are better than the thousands of free dating websites out there.