When we decide to flirt with someone at a party, we do it almost exclusively based on what they look like.
The dating app Tinder is based on the same principal. It’s probably why the app has been so successful. And despite how superficial it might sound, there’s a lot more science bound up in those few seconds of checking someone out than you might think.
Tinder has been hugely successful in the app world — its users login an average of 11 times a day and spend between 7 and 9 minutes swiping left and right (either saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a potential match) during a single session.
So how exactly do we size up a potential match, whether on our phones or in person? The latest social science research suggests there are a few main things we look for.
Checking Someone Out
“When was the last time you walked into a bar and someone said: “Excuse me, can you fill out this form and we’ll match you up with people here?'” Sean Rad, Tinder co-founder and chief executive told the New York Times. As it turns out, there’s a good reason we don’t do this. In addition to being super awkward, it would also be pretty unnecessary and potentially misleading.
In reality, there may be more we can determine about someone’s personality based on how they look than on their answers to a set of predetermined questions like those used by online dating sites. Plus, those answers might lead us astray — in experiments with people who said they valued specific characteristics in a potential mate, none of them proved important once it came down to meeting that person.
Tinder, on the other hand, works more like real-life flirting. Based on a quick glimpse, we are able to size up everything from a potential mate’s personality to his or her hobbies and interests.
Photos may actually be even more accurate than in-person interactions when it comes to judging some specific social characteristics, including extroversion. As opposed to meeting someone at a bar, looking at a photo allows you to evaluate a variety of their characteristics — from their facial expression to their clothing style — before factoring in what they say or how they act.
How You’re Standing
If you’re standing “energetically” in a photo, for example, meaning you’re not slouching and your feet are pointed towards the camera, viewers are more likely to pick up on your outgoing personality. Looking neat and composed (which viewers perceive as meaning you’re stylish and healthy) can earn you extroversion points too.
Viewers also check out whether or not you’re smiling (smilers are associated with being more outgoing). People who are frowning or appear straight-faced, on the other hand, are more likely to be deemed introverts.
Who You’re With
Tinder’s own researchers say a more obvious indicator of an outgoing personality is whether you’re alone or with others in your photos.
While most people say you should be alone in your main profile photo (no one wants to guess who you are in the three seconds they will probably spend looking at your photo), your other images might include friends or family.
If you’re alone in all of them, you might send a message that you prefer to spend your time solo. If you’re surrounded by friends, on the other hand, you signal to viewers that you’ve got an outgoing personality.
“A photo of a guy at a bar with friends around him sends a very different message than a photo of a guy with a dog on the beach,” Rad told the New York Times.
Where You Put Your Arms
If you want potential Tinder matches to think you’re confident, rest your arms behind you in your photos.
In experiments with people who looked at pictures of strangers and determined how confident they were, observers were more likely to rank those standing with their arms behind their backs as confident. People who stood with their arms hanging by their sides, for example, or crossed at their chest, were assumed to have lower self-esteem.
Viewers also judged confidence based on whether or not people were slouching or facing the camera in their photos — as with extroversion, standing straight and facing the camera was generally associated with higher self-esteem.
Your Facial Features
In general, women interested in men prefer they have more facial hair and stronger features, while men looking for female partners prefer bigger eyes and lips but smaller chins and softer jawlines.
Women’s preferences can change, however, based on the type of relationship they seek. In experiments with women in which researchers asked them if they were more interested in a longterm relationship or a one-night stand, women who just wanted sex preferred the men with more masculine faces — chiseled cheekbones, a stronger jaw line, and more facial hair, for example. Those who were looking for a lifetime partner, on the other hand, tended to prefer men with softer features.
Conversely, men typically prefer women with features researchers identify as being more feminine — bigger eyes and fuller lips but a narrower chin and a less angular jaw, regardless of the kind of relationship they’re looking for.
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