Dating Photos vs Common Sense

Every now and then we run across an article that appears off-topic but upon inspection showcases perfectly what we’re trying to do here. Recently the free dating website ran an article analyzing the pictures people used on their dating profiles and how effective those pictures were at making contact with the opposite sex. There are three things I love about this article:

  1. They justify their conclusions with graphs and numbers
  2. They tackle seemingly contradictory results
  3. Sometimes they provide more than a single number to justify their conclusions.

You should read the full article as they address several more issues than we’ll get into here (and they also provide sample photos of the types of images they’re referring to), but we’ll call out some highlights that illustrate these points.

Numerical Justification.

Is it better to smile or not? The standard advice is to smile while looking into the camera. But how effective is that really? It apparently depends on whether you’re male or female. Below is their answer for men. I find their chart a bit confusing as the bars below the line at first blush indicate that you get negative hits… how can someone “take back” a dating request? What they’re doing though is graphing against the average. I’ve redrawn it on the right which may make more sense. And of course the results are that no eye contact for men is almost always better.

Results Conflict With Common Sense

They dispel several common pieces of advice regarding dating photos in their article. One example involves those odd-angle self-portrait shots, what they term “MySpace shots”, from their article:

The universally maligned “MySpace Shot,” [is] taken by holding your camera above your head and being just so darn coy.

The graph below shows how effective these are for women. In short, very very effective. They even do a little control testing of this, just to verify that it wasn’t some other feature of these shots that made them so effective (read the article for details) but the “MySpace shot” still came out on top. Again, they’re graphing these results against the average, but with the previous warning this graph should be a little easier to read.

When Yes/No Won’t Do.

Most of the examples they gave provide information to the effect of:

For best results, men should look away from the camera and not smile.

They provide a sense of how much more effective their suggested strategies are by comparing them with other strategies. But this information may be too homogeneous for general use. “Does it really apply to me?” So for a few types of photos OkCupid dug a little deeper. In one case they analyzed how effective “showing skin” was in the photos. For men this tended to be showing off their ripped abs (assuming they had any). But instead of providing a simple comparison against the average or other types of photos, they broke it down by age. The results are below. In short, if you’re young and have ripped abs it’s better to show them off, but it’s not always that much better.


Every newspaper has an Entertainment section and why not us? But our entertainment may come with ulterior motives. Here’s ours. After seeing this data, how likely are you to abandon your common sense wisdom regarding effective dating photos in favor of a technique that data says works better? Is the ideology of smiling and looking into the camera any different from any other ideology? Shouldn’t any ideology fall under the weight of contradictory evidence? If you change your strategy will your friends call you a “flip-flopper” or are you instead holding fast to a higher principle, one of science?

Alternatively, are you swayed by these results because you believe them to be unbiased? After all, the motivations of OkCupid here are clear, they just want more people to meet each other and they’re reporting on what appears to do that. It’s not like they’re charging more for those “MySpace shots”. Yes, reporting bias does exist and is a real concern, but that cuts both ways, may even cut 3-ways: left-bias, truth and right-bias. Your task is to find the truth and not to blanketly assume your favorite bias is always true. Our task is to help you do that. One way is exemplified by the ripped abs chart above. Rich data, in this case showing where showing the 6-pack helps a lot and where it only helps a little, is believable even if OkCupid had something to gain from pushing 6-pack abs shots. They state themselves that it’s not always tremendously effective. And the results of the “MySpace shot” is another means of verifying unbiased reporting. The results are so stunning that other researchers may very well try to repeat the result, and furthermore the results are so stunning that young women may be able to independently verify its veracity by testing their own dating pics. A marginal result may be hard to independently verify, but a result like this should be fairly easy.

4 comments for “Dating Photos vs Common Sense

  1. 3yn20h9a
    February 18, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I have said this before, but if there was ever a time that PHOTOS would have enhanced a story…..

    • numbersguy
      February 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

      I don’t want to be accused of peddling flesh for the sake of ratings. And besides… some of the photos from the original article are only a click away. Just click!

  2. March 3, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Super info, I will probably try this for my adult dating websites

  3. May 25, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I have to tell you, u r totally on. I got to this website from another friend and am really fascinated by this topic and finding more info. Do you mind if I point to this blog from my blog?

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