3 Science-Backed Tips for Better Online Dating

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Online dating
Photo: fotostorm/Getty Images

Discussions of online dating are a bit like discussions of politics: It seems like everybody has a strong opinion about how it should be done, but many of these strong opinions have a whiff of voodoo to them. It’s hard to know exactly what works and why when it comes to meeting people online. Luckily, online dating sites produce a huge amount of data, and researchers have spent the last few years sifting through it in search of patterns and tendencies that would otherwise have remained hidden. 

In a new paper in Evidence-Based Medicine*, Khalid S. Khan of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Sameer Chaudhry of the University of North Texas report on the results of a big review they did of the recent research. They wanted to see if they could develop and “evidence-based approach to online dating,” so they examined 86 studies to see what lessons they could draw from them about how to optimize one’s online-dating experience, particularly when it comes to maximizing the odds of turning online messaging into a face-to-face meetup.

Not everything in here is entirely surprising — at one point the researchers note that “men prefer physical fitness in women gained via yoga, aerobics and gym, not via rugby and bodybuilding.” But there are some interesting, useful nuggets as well:

Pick a screen name near the front of the alphabet: The researchers claim that “A variety of measures of success [in the offline world] … are correlated with names higher up in the alphabet.” But whether or not you buy this, there’s a pretty straightforward reason to go with ACoolGuy rather than TheCoolGuy for your profile name (note: do not use these as actual profile names): “Screen names starting with a letter near the top of the alphabet are presented first” in search listings, so those toward the end of the alphabet can often “be lost in the bottom of the pile.”

For the most prominent parts of your profile, don’t overwrite. “Simple language, not overcomplicated wording, is likely to result in significantly higher ratings of intelligence because people are naturally drawn to words that are easy to remember and pronounce,” Khan and Chaudhry write. “It makes information-processing easier, which also increases likeability. Overall attractiveness of the text is positively correlated with photo attractiveness. If you can get the potential date to stop and think about your headline message, increasing the exposure time to the primary photo, this will increase their liking.”

In your profile, aim for a 70:30 ratio of writing about who you are to writing about what you’re looking for in a partner. Many people find the process of profile-writing awkward, panic slightly, and end up droning on a bit. But a profile that is all about you, the researchers write, “will attract far fewer responses than a combination of who you are and what you are looking for.” Instead, work in a bit of stuff about the sorts of people you’re trying to meet. 

*This post has been corrected to show that the paper was published in Evidence-Based Medicine, not the British Medical Journal, as originally stated.