Crafting the perfect profile is one of the hardest parts of online dating. Maybe you want to come across as sincere, but also a little mysterious; upbeat and fun, but also a deep thinker.
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The description of your personality, hobbies, likes, and dislikes can have a big impact on how someone perceives an online profile. But the actual language you use — the way you write the profile, not just what it says — may have a bigger influence on your potential matches than you realise.
New research published in the journal Personal Relationships suggests that things like the length of your profile, the number of positive and negative words you use, and whether or not you use swear words, are all sending subtle signals and influencing how other online daters assess your personality.
If you’re trying to drum up a lot of interest in your profile, the researchers conclude, there are some simple tweaks you can make. “Online daters who wish to be perceived as more consistent with the ideal romantic partner personality profile should write fairly lengthy ads that use an abundance of positive emotion words, and refrain from any negative emotionality or cursing,” the researchers write.
When you’re on the receiving end, however, reviewing the profiles of others, there’s another important — if already widely believed — takeaway from this research: Most of what you pick up on about people from their online profiles does not match up to them in real life.
For the study, the researchers recruited volunteers, half of whom were genuinely interested in finding a romantic partner and half of whom were neutral judges, to assess the personalities of 100 people based only on the dating ads they posted on Craigslist in Vancouver.
“Judges’ impressions of extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability — 3 traits that are strongly desired in a romantic partner — were influenced by particular lexical cues, such as word count, emotionality, and profanity,” the researchers write in the paper.
Judges rated the people who wrote long ads as more extraverted and agreeable, likely because the long profile made these people seem more outgoing and talkative — as if they had more exciting social lives and more hobbies and interests than those who wrote shorter profiles. Judges rated people as “more neurotic if they used more negative emotion words, fewer positive emotion words, and more swear words” in their profiles, according to the study.
So it’s clear word choice influences how we perceive personality, but the researchers also wanted to test the accuracy of those perceptions.
Those who wrote the dating ads used for the study also agreed to fill out a personality test. The researchers compared the judges’ personality assessment to the results from each individual’s personality test.
It turns out the judges were good at predicting whether or not someone was truly extraverted based on their profile, but they were off on everything else.
This wasn’t surprising to the researchers.
“Like most individuals seeking romantic relationships, online daters may be motivated to present their ideal, as opposed to actual, self,” they write in the paper.
While presenting yourself in the most flattering way possible may attract a lot of matches, it’s a problematic strategy for people looking for a long-term relationship. Having the right impression of a partner is critical in the early stages of relationship development, the researchers write.
If a first impression doesn’t hold up, people are less likely to pursue that person as a partner.
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