In the online dating world, both men and women are looking to find someone a little out of their league, a new study finds. Scientists who analyzed data from users of a popular dating site found that straight men and women contact potential partners who are on average about 25% more attractive than them.
The results, published in the journal Science Advances, shed new light on the habits and priorities of men and women when playing the online dating game.
Researchers have long sought to identify the behaviors that lead people to choose particular romantic partners.
Couples, married or not, tend to have similar ages, educational levels, levels of attractiveness, and a host of other characteristics. This could mean that people are trying to find partners who “match” their stats. On the other hand, it could mean that people are trying to find mates that are slightly more attractive – which results in the same pattern as the most desirable mates, followed by the next most desirable, and so on.
The problem is, watching established couples leaves out the real process of courtship – which could tell you a lot more about what people look for in a partner, how they woo them, and how often they are rejected.
“What you don’t observe are all the people who have asked someone who said ‘no’ – which is really the information you need if you want to understand hierarchies of desirability,” he said. said senior author Elizabeth Bruch, a computer sociologist at the University of Michigan.
Online dating offers a solution, as you can see who contacts whom first, and whether the recipient replies to that initial message.
So, for this article, the scientists used anonymized data from an anonymous dating site for nearly 187,000 users in four US cities – New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle – over the course of a month.
Rather than assessing individual attractiveness or desirability themselves, scientists relied on site users to make rankings: users were ranked as most desirable based on the number of first posts they received. they received and depending on the degree of desirability of the senders themselves.
This is an iterative algorithm called PageRank, which Google uses to rank websites in their search engine results. (The most popular person in their data set was a 30-year-old woman in New York City who received 1,504 messages, or about one message every half hour.)
Then, to do their math, they basically put all of the users on a scale of 0 to 1. The least desirable man and woman in each city had a score of 0 and the most desirable man and woman had a score of 0. a score of 1, with everyone else’s score lying one decimal in between.
Scientists found that men and women sent initial messages to potential partners who were more desirable than them – men went 26% higher on average, while women aimed 23% higher.
Did these users just think they were more desirable than they actually were? Or did they know they were looking for relatively more attractive partners?
To find out, the scientists analyzed the messages they sent, using clear diagrams. Women consistently sent more positive messages to men when the “desirability gap” was larger, the scientists said – a sign that they were trying harder for a more desirable man.
The men, however, did the opposite: they sent less positive messages to more desirable women.
“My co-author and I used to joke that men play cool,” Bruch said. “They are not as enthusiastic when approaching more desirable mates.”
Strangely, the men’s strategy seemed to be working. In all four cities, men had slightly lower response rates from women when writing more positive messages.
“It was a surprising find – I wasn’t expecting it,” Bruch said. “This behavior resonated with pickup artists’ strategies” such as negging, a kind of emotional manipulation where someone gives another person a backwards compliment in order to erode their confidence and increase their need. approval.
Bruch said one of his graduate students was developing an explanation of why this strategy appears to be working.
Another common tactic employed by both men and women was to send longer messages to desirable prospects – but that didn’t really seem to result in a higher response rate, she said.
There was one exception: Seattle men had the “most pronounced” increase in message length for desirable mates, and the strategy actually seemed to work, resulting in a higher response rate.
Seattle is also a market where straight men may have to work harder to find a date, the researchers noted.
“Seattle has the most unfavorable dating climate for men, with up to two men for each woman in certain segments of the user population,” the study authors wrote.
It seems that people are looking for more desirable mates, but this desirability is tightly calibrated according to their own attractiveness.
So, is everyone doomed to seek out inaccessible partners “outside their league”?
It turns out that sending ambitious messages works – not all the time, and less often when the desirability gap is larger. For men looking for more desirable women, the response rate reached 21% – high enough to make the effort worth it, the scientists said.
“One of the take-home messages here is that it can pay off to be persistent,” Bruch said – to send messages to many desirable users, hoping to get a response from one of them. ‘between them.
“It seems that even writing 10 posts to find someone you find incredibly desirable is a pretty modest investment of time and energy,” she said.
Bruch also pointed to other research indicating that, in essence, people are most superficial when they first start out and start to value other characteristics as they get to know each other.
“If this is true, then what we would expect is that these differences in desirability matter most in that first message and response,” she said, “and then the desirability gap ceases to be. ‘be also important in determining whether people are taking the next step. “
Perhaps studying the number of follow-up messages or the content of the responses could begin to shed light on that dynamic, Bruch said.
In the meantime, Bruch said the findings in Seattle – where men wrote longer posts and were also rewarded for it, unlike New York, Boston and Chicago – prompted her to delve deeper into the differences in the experiences of meetings between different cities.