If you’re like most online daters, you probably pick the most attractive people to go out with. You can hardly be to blame – we’re hardwired to prefer beauty since it tells us a person has good genes and can probably have healthy kids. Besides, photos are pretty much the only thing you see on dating apps, and with so many potential partners out there it’s the easiest way to choose who to date.
But choosing someone to ask out after you’ve weeded through tons of profile pics – and deemed that person to be among the most attractive – is far from the best strategy when it comes to going on a good date, according to a recent US study.
In the study, researchers looked at how a person’s attractiveness changes after you meet them in person. They split up 65 pairs of students into three groups. The first group of straight men and women rated pics of opposite-sex strangers on a scale of one to 10.
Then they got to meet one of the strangers in real life. And after a ten-minute chat, they rated the pics once more. Then they told the researchers whether they were they romantically or sexually interested in their chat partner, and also if they were attracted to him or her as a person.
Meanwhile, the other two groups of students didn’t rate their partners before meeting them.
The first lesson the researchers learnt: meeting someone face-to-face can boost the way you rate their looks in a major way! This is mostly true for people who aren’t rated as particularly good-looking in their online pics. People ranked as hot in the first place don’t see their attractiveness ratings go up much.
That might be because of something called the 'halo effect', researcher Dr Jeffrey Hall told Love Matters.
Really attractive people are assumed to have a host of other really positive characteristics, but in reality they don’t necessarily have all those characteristics – we just think they’re that great. When we meet them we actually might find they’re regular folks, just like you and I.
So it’s possible we have high expectations of people who come across as very attractive in their profile pics and they simply don’t live up to them in real life. ‘Or we have low expectations for people who are less attractive,’ says Dr Hall. ‘When we interact with them we’re like, “Hey, this person’s really great and I also think that they’re really attractive now because I got to know them, I understand what they’re about.”’
Two personality traits that make you more attractive
Two aspects of a person’s personality – things that only reveal themselves when you get to know him or her in real life – can boost how attractive they are as a potential partner, Dr Hall’s research showed.
- ‘Social attractiveness’: the person is likeable and would make for a good friend
- Being funny and fun to be around
‘If you are friendly and have a great sense of humour, you stand to gain a lot by getting your foot in the door. Physical attractiveness is not fixed; it’s malleable,’ Dr Hall says.
Spend more time with information about them and less time staring at their photo.
Three top tips for picking your Tinder date
- Focus on the information about a person, not in the photo. Try to work out if you’ll like their personality. If you don’t think they’re particularly attractive in the photo, don’t be put off. If you like them, you’ll find they’re better looking in real life than you thought!
- If you think someone looks really hot in the photo, don’t assume that means you’ll get along great. You could be heading for a disappointment. If they’re not your type, your feelings about their looks could dwindle.
- Don’t mentally give people marks out of ten before you meet them, or compare them to others. You’re setting yourself up for a sense of disappointment.
If the person’s personality is wonderful, your evaluation of their physical attractiveness will follow.
Too much choice
As for the two groups who didn’t rank their partners beforehand, they actually enjoyed their date’s company more and were less critical of his or her appearance. There’s something about ranking a person prior to going out with them and comparing them to others that makes for a worse date. When you’re out with the person there’s that voice in the back of your head saying, ‘If only I was with some other guy or girl I’d be having a better time.’
‘You have the illusion that all of these options are going to make your life better or are going to make your choices better,’ says Dr Hall. But instead, ‘It makes you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, and my study would say it makes your interaction with the person that you pick worse.’
Go for personality, not looks
So what’s an online dater to do? Slow down, for one. ‘Take a few people at a time, perhaps spend more time with information about them and less time staring at their photo,’ Dr Hall suggests. Look for characteristics that will tell you what your day-to-day life would be like if you were to go out with them. ‘Their preferences and their lifestyle and the kinds of things that matter to them probably matter more than a photo,’ he adds.
You’d also be wise to use apps and online dating sites as a means to actually meet people in person so you can get to know them. ‘If the person’s personality is wonderful, your evaluation of their physical attractiveness will follow,’ Dr Hall said in the press release.
- Hall, J. & Compton, B.L. (2017). Pre- and Postinteraction Physical Attractiveness Ratings and Experience-Based Impressions. Communication Studies.
- Interview with Dr Jeffrey Hall