Online dating study: Nice guys finish first — when presented second

Online daters are more interested in potential partners who are emotionally responsive but relatively physically unattractive when they have first read the profiles of ones who are emotionally unresponsive, according to results of a forthcoming study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

The increasing use of online dating websites and apps to find potential dating partners has made it easier than ever to compare alternatives’ physical characteristics, as well as what they say about their emotional approaches to relationship, side by side. Social psychologists suggest that this approach to online dating creates the potential for the way in which profiles are presented in relation to one another to subtly affect people’s dating choices.

A study led by Stephanie Spielmann, of Wayne State University, examined how contrast between two consecutively viewed profiles affected people’s dating preferences. The researchers conducted two experiments in which people viewed a series of online dating profiles for members of the opposite sex that included different combinations of desirable and undesirable information about their physical appearance and emotional responsiveness.

Each profile contained a photo which had been independently rated as either above or below average in terms of attractiveness. It also contained statements that suggested the profile owner was either emotionally responsive (such as “when I’m in a relationship, I like to make sure my girlfriend feels understood and that I get who she is and what she needs”) or emotionally unresponsive (such as “I get bored talking about feelings and stuff and I’m not really into talking about people’s problems”).

In the first study, which included 88 female college students, each woman saw all four possible combinations of attractiveness and responsiveness, presented in random order. The women in the study indicated that they were much more romantically interested in the emotionally responsive men when their profiles were viewed after the nonresponsive profiles, than when they rated the responsive profiles first. They also rated responsive men as somewhat more physically attractive when viewed second than when viewed first.

The second study, which included 267 women and men recruited on the internet, focused specifically on how the order in which profiles were seen affected interest potential date who was unattractive but responsive. In this study, participants saw only two profiles and had to choose which they would prefer to date. Again, the unattractive but responsive date was much more likely to be chosen when paired with an unresponsive date than with a responsive one, regardless of whether the person they were being compared with was attractive or unattractive.

The study authors conclude that online dater’s evaluations of potential dates are likely to be influenced by comparisons with other people in their dating pool. People may overestimate how much they will like a potential date if their profile is encountered after a succession of relatively bad ones. From a practical standpoint, the authors suggest that “‘nice guys’ looking to finish first may want to avoid paying for options that offer to bump their profile for premium viewing,” since an emotionally responsive profile is more likely to look attractive after being contrasted with the less-responsive competition.