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From the OkCupid article

Greetings, Intellectual Badasses. Due to the release of Find The Love of Your Life Online, I’m in an online dating state of mind. And once more I am drawn to OkCupid’s revealing (and statistically interesting) findings. I’m telling you: it is TOUGH to find studies – with proper analysis – that focus on dating behavior. Thank the gods for online dating, which provides a massive cache of data to be mined for years.

In our last review of an OkCupid study, we focused on the DOs and DON’Ts of the first email. Today, it’s photos. The photo is where is all begins. If you’re photo exhibits the right properties, you’ll get more action. If it sucks, you’ll get far less. Sure, the write-up and all those silly criteria matter too, but let’s be honest – the buck stops at the photo.

But there’s more to a good photo than avoiding red eye, taking your damned sunglasses OFF, and using one that’s recent. There are other factors that will increase or decrease your action online. In this study, OkCupid analyzed over 7,000 photographs from their users’ profiles. And what they found is interesting:

1. Smiling is good, but only if you’re female. Women were much more likely to smile or do “flirty face” in their photos than men were (65% vs. 39%). However, the female photos that got the most messages were when the women smiled and made eye contact with the camera. Not looking at the camera significantly reduced women’s contacts, on average. It’s as if flirty/friendly are great when aimed at the interested man, but backfire if aimed somewhere else.

Results were quite different for men. When it comes to women met per attempt, men who did NOT smile and made NO eye contact with the camera did significantly better. And, like with the women, men who donned flirty face looking away from the camera did far worse. I have to admit – a pic of an unsmiling man is hot. Why would this be? My take is that a serious face is more masculine; it indicates the masculine trait of emotional control. This doesn’t mean a man can’t smile or show emotion; but in an online dating pic, it’s useful to do what triggers attraction most quickly. And masculinity will.

2. The “My Space” shot may work. A MySpace pic is do-it-yourself shot where you hold the camera above you, so the viewer is looking down at you. MySpace shots are kind of… dopey. BUT, according to these data, they work, much to the surprise of even the guy who analyzed the data. His theory was that they offer a better shot of cleavage. But even when they analyzed cleavage-free shots, this type of photo had far more success than photos of women outdoors, traveling, or hanging with friends. As a side note, pics that involved alcohol or animals performed the worst.

Why is this? Perhaps, as one commenter suggested, men are used to viewing women from above since they’re taller.

For men, photos of them with animals, showing off muscles, or doing “something interesting” performed best. But before you go shirtless, know that this is only effective if you’ve got a kick-ass body, and the effect declines with age. By the time a guy is 30, the shirtless thing backfires.

3. Cleavage is good, BUT… Yes, cleavage shots yield far more messages. And the older you are, the more effective the cleavage shot.

Of course, this analysis focused on message VOLUME. As any online dating female knows, quantity doesn’t mean quality. When they probed further, they found what any of us would expect: pics that generate conversation, rather than simply being sexy for sexy’s sake, yield higher quality emails. So be careful with the cleavage.

Caveats: While these results are interesting, it’s important to know that these data included only people age 18-32, who were “average looking” according to OkCupid users’ opinions (they cut out the most and least attractive people to avoid skewing results). I suspect this age range explains the MySpace shot effect. Would be interesting to examine these results in older populations.

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