SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN -- Jan 30 -- Research conducted by Jeana Frost (Boston Uni / MIT) suggests ~20% of online daters admit to deception. If you ask them how many other people are lying, however--an interviewing tactic that probably gets closer to the truth--that number jumps to 90%. Psychologist Jeffrey Hancock (Cornell Uni) and communications professor Nicole Ellison (Michigan State Uni) bring people into a lab, where they measure height and weight and then check the numbers against those in their online profiles. Online profiles shave off about five pounds and add perhaps an inch in height. Economists Guenter Hitsch and Ali Hortaçsu (University of Chicago) and psychologist Dan Ariely (MIT) compared heights and weights of online daters with national census data. Online height is exaggerated by an inch or so for both men and women. Women appear to understate their weight more as they get older: by five pounds in their 20s, 17 pounds in their 30s and 19 pounds in their 40s. Men's profiles without photos draw one fourth the response of those with photos, and women's profiles without photos draw one sixth the response.
Why so much inaccuracy? Sara Kiesler (Carnegie Mellon), suggest that "computer-mediated communication" is disinhibiting, causing people to say just about anything they feel like saying. There are no physical cues, raised eyebrows or grimaces to keep people's behavior in check so online daters tend to construct what Ellison and colleagues Jennifer Gibbs (Rutgers) and Rebecca Heino (Georgetown), call an "ideal self" rather than a real one.
Mark Brooks: In short, peer groups are better than background checks, personality profiling has a loooong way to go, and virtual dating via video and voice will be the basis of a new generation of dating sites that will aim to help people gage chemistry earlier on, prior to meeting.