Typos in your online dating profile can make you seem less attractive, study finds

Having language errors in your online dating profiles can make you appear less attractive as a romantic partner, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The research also suggests that people associate different types of language errors with different personality attributes.

“We were interested in the (negative) effects of language errors on the impressions people form of the attractiveness of a dating profile owner,” said study author Tess van der Zanden, a PhD student at the Department of Communication and Cognition of Tilburg University.

“Various online dating sites recommend their members check their spelling and grammar before publishing their profile online. An example was found on a blog at OkCupid, which recommended to their members to proofread the profile text, as 75% of the people say they are less likely to respond to someone whose profile has spelling mistakes.”

“How they got to these numbers is not really known, and they seem to be based on answers given in large general surveys among site members. However, the extent to which language errors do negatively affect perceptions of attractiveness was not yet empirically investigated. If a person indicates in such a survey that (s)he will be turned off by language errors, this does not necessarily mean that this person rates a profile owner as less attractive once encountering a profile with language errors.”

In their first study, 373 Dutch dating app users viewed and rated two online dating profiles — one which included language errors and one that did not. The researchers found that online dating profiles with language errors were rated as less socially and romantically attractive than those without errors.

But this effect was mostly driven by the 33.5% of participants who reported noticing the errors. “Apparently, most people do not observe language errors in online dating profiles, but for those who do, the errors severely damage the profile owner’s dating potential,” the researchers said.

Next, the researchers examined if the type of language error mattered. “Previous studies that investigated the effects of language errors in other (online) environments differed in the type of language errors they included in their studies, and revealed differential effects on impression formation,” van der Zanden explained.

“One of the reasons for this may be that different language errors types are often attributed to different personality traits. In the second study of this paper, we therefore included different language error types, which are all attributed to particular personality attributions.”

The second study, which included another 365 Dutch adults, compared mechanical language errors — such as writing “teh” instead of “the” — to rule-based language errors — such as using “me” instead of “I.” The researchers also examined the use of informal language, such as emoticons, abbreviations, and expressive punctuation.

The researchers found that mechanical errors were perceived as a signal of inattentiveness, while rule-based errors were perceived as a signal of lower intelligence. Inattentiveness and lower intelligence, in turn, were linked to lower attraction and dating intention scores. The use of informal language, meanwhile, was associated with reduced interpersonal warmth.

The findings highlight that people should “try to avoid language errors in your profile text,” van der Zanden told PsyPost.

“If you are yourself not so sure about the occurrence of language errors in your profile, ask another person to proofread your profile. Even though we found that a lot of people did not notice or did not know whether they had been presented with profiles with language errors, you just want to prevent people from attributing you false personality traits (e.g. that you are lacking intelligence or that you are not attentive), and that your profile is therefore immediately discarded just because of some language errors.”

“You should not blame someone for doing this because people have only limited information on a dating profile to form a quick initial impression on and to decide whether there is interest in pursuing contact with the profile owner or not. All small pieces of information that are available can thus influence the impression others form of you,” van der Zanden said.

“Information that is unintentionally provided by the profile owner is of high value because it ‘leaks’ information that is less regulated or controlled by the profile owner. Especially in an online dating context, where it is known that most profile owners are likely to present their best and most attractive self in the dating profile, by avoiding certain bad habits and emphasizing positive traits, such uncontrolled information is therefore assigned greater weight.”

But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“An advantage of this study is that we had a large sample of actual dating site users as participants in this study. However, it is important to notice that participants were on average 55 years, and the results are thus mostly based on perceptions of older adults,” van der Zanden explained.

“Our sample may therefore not perfectly mirror the site’s overall user demographic, and the demographic of the online dating audience in general. It may be the case that younger adults are less attentive to language errors or consider them as less negative.”

“Moreover, effect sizes in our study were all somewhere between small and medium. This is not surprising considering that language errors are but one of the cues that people pay attention to when forming impressions. Other available pieces of information, called cues, such as the profile text content and the profile picture, are considered for impression formation, and the observed effects of errors on impression formation are therefore not trivial,” van der Zanden noted.

“Finally, a surprisingly high number of participants did not notice or did not know whether the profiles they saw contained language errors or not. This raises the question which individuals are prone to notice language errors.”

The research also provides new insights into how people evaluate different aspects of online dating profiles.

“Another interesting finding of this study is that it seems that people use different dating profile components to form impressions about different aspects of attractiveness,” van der Zanden explained.

“Inferences about physical attractiveness seem to be made based on profile picture information and characteristics of profile texts are likely to affect impressions of a profile owner’s social attractiveness, which is also paramount to find in a romantic partner. This indicates that people are specific about which cues they use to form impressions and need different cues in the profile that fit specific dimensions of impression formation.”

The study, “Impression formation on online dating sites: Effects of language errors in profile texts on perceptions of profile owners’ attractiveness“, was authored by Tess Van der Zanden, Alexander P. Schouten, Maria B. J. Mos, and Emiel J. Krahmer.