According to a series of two studies published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, men and women differ in the degree to which they become upset by opposite sex deception in online dating. The researchers found that women ranked deception about occupation as more upsetting than men did, while men ranked deception about attractiveness as more upsetting than woman did.
Various studies indicate that men, more so than women, search for youth and physical attractiveness in their potential mates. Evolutionary theory argues that female attractiveness serves as a cue of reproductive capacity and identifying attractive woman would have been of reproductive importance for ancestral males. Relatedly, research suggests that women more so than men, prefer partners of higher social status, resources, and ability to provide. In ancestral environments, female reproductive success would have been constrained by access to resources.
Complimenting these divergent mate preferences, men and women also differ in the ways they attempt to attract mates. For example, men are more likely to display their resources, athleticism, and strength, while women are more likely to alter their physical appearances through clothing or the use of makeup.
These differences also manifest in the ways men and women deceive each other. When attempting to impress potential mates, men are more likely to try to deceive women about their levels of dominance (i.e., masculinity) and resources (i.e., income, career expectations), while women are more likely to try to deceive men about their physical appearances. In online dating contexts, deception can be particularly difficult to detect.
In this work, Jessica Desrochers and colleagues examined sex differences in how upset men and women would feel when exposed to online dating deception regarding a potential mate’s attractiveness, resources, and altruism.
A total of 644 undergraduate students were recruited for both studies. In Study 1, participants provided demographic information (e.g., sex, age), and completed questionnaire assessing for past sexual behavior, attitudes toward uncommitted sex, and desire for uncommitted sex (otherwise known as an individual’s ‘sociosexual orientation’), as well as self-perceived mate value. Afterwards, they were presented with a scenario that described a situation in which they signed up for online dating, met someone, and connected with them instantly. Following communication, they found out that this person had deceived them about one of the following: their attractiveness, occupation or volunteer work. Participants were given a forced choice question prompting them to rank each deception condition from least to most upsetting.
Study 2 largely followed the same procedure. However, for the deception scenario, participants were randomly presented with only one of the potential deceptions and asked to provide ratings ranging from 1 to 7 to indicate how upset they would be about the dishonesty, and how likely they would be to cancel the date.
Using a force-choice question in Study 1 revealed that men (vs. women) were more upset to be deceived about a potential partner’s attractiveness, and women (vs. men) were more upset to be deceived about occupation. When it came to deception regarding volunteerism, there were no observed sex differences, suggesting both sexes are equally upset by deception relating to altruistic tendencies.
Using a continuous measure, Study 2 revealed that men were most likely to cancel their date when lied to about looks, rather than employment or volunteerism. However, there were no sex differences in the likelihood of cancelling a date due to attractiveness deception. The researchers suggest this could be due to women’s preferences for partner attractiveness being higher in university populations. Women were most likely to cancel their date in response to being deceived regarding a date’s volunteerism, rather than occupation. However, women were more likely than men to cancel a date over both volunteerism and employment deception. Mate value and sociosexuality did not moderate observed sex differences in how upset participants felt in response to deception.
There are a few limitations the authors note. The study recruited a “WEIRD” sample (i.e., White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) which limits its generalizability. As well, the mean age of participants was 21 years, which may not extend to older adult populations. Further, the online dating platform was not specified, leaving this open to interpretation among participants. Relatedly, the dating scenario was hypothetical, which could lead participants to respond in a way that they believe they would behave, but may not actually behave as such in real-life circumstances.
The study, “Sex Differences in Response to Deception Across Mate‑Value Traits of Attractiveness, Job Status, and Altruism in Online Dating”, was authored by Jessica Desrochers, Megan MacKinnon, Benjamin Kelly, Brett Masse, and Steven Arnocky.