Studies on Shallowness


By Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Ali Nishan.

Love may be blind, but dating isn’t.

In January of 2013, OkCupid activated “Crazy Blind Date” on all its users, an app that paired people on blind dates with little to no notice (lest participants stalked their dates on social media prior to drinks). The app scrambled profile pictures so thoroughly that people had no idea what the other party looked like before meeting up. For seven hours, the online dating service blurred out all profile pics and called the event Love Is Blind Day.

Two weeks later, hacker Kevin Hjelden wrote a code to de-scramble the images.

Six months later, the app was nixed after failing in the market.

The basic conclusion drawn from the experience is nothing new to humanity’s knowledge about dating or relationships: looks matter. But after running metrics from Love Is Blind Day and comparing them to a normal Tuesday, researchers at OkCupid shed some light on the complexities of just how much the superficial tendency holds true in cyberspace.

Though OkCupid’s web traffic decreased rampantly on Love Is Blind Day, users who kept on using the service responded to first messages 44 percent more often, conversations went deeper, and contact details were exchanged more quickly. However, the minute profile pictures became available again, most users instantly stopped conversations, even while continuous correspondence was in mid-course.

Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Occidental College Dr. Lisa Wade tells BTR the OkCupid example illustrates a well-documented phenomenon in psychology called attractiveness bias.

“Attractiveness bias means we like pretty people because they’re pretty, but we also tend to think that everything else [we culturally deem as] good, they have more of it. So they are nicer, they’re more successful, better employees, better parents, more fun to be around, anything.”

Wade says attractiveness bias is culturally specific. In countries where people value cooperation, those who are more attractive people are viewed as better team players. In American culture, where we value independence, better-looking individuals are thought to be more self-sufficient.

Thus, looking attractive in your pics automatically grants you higher standing with people checking you out.

It’s rather unfortunate that this is the case, because OkCupid also ran metrics on people who actually went on blind dates via their app and found that looks barely contributed to the overall success of the experience. In fact, most women were slightly less happy if their dates turned out to be good-looking.

Furthermore, when OkCupid first launched they allowed users to rate others based on two separate categories: personality and looks. Studies from this time period showed that people essentially thought looks and personality were one in the same, meaning even if a user didn’t have any text in their profile, but had some hot photos, they still scored highly in both areas.

After OkCupid condensed the rating down to a single scale, they ran an experiment to see whether or not they were correct in assuming most users only base their opinions on photographs. Indeed, they were (scroll down to the graph titled “people’s OkCupid ratings with and without their profile text”).

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Wade says it’s proven that attractiveness bias decreases the more available information there is about a person.

“For example,” Wade continues, “if you look at discrimination against women in the workplace, they’ve done studies where the exact same resume is presented to an employer, but the name on the top is either Jennifer or John. If the resume is short, you see more bias towards John. If the resume is long, that bias decreases.”

Theoretically, then, a well-thought out profile will decrease the tendency for interested parties to judge you on looks alone.

Julie Spira, America’s leading cyberdating expert, founder of Cyber-Dating, digital matchmaker, and singles coach, tells BTR there is a discrepancy between what people say is important to them when meeting someone online and what they want in real life.

“When they’re meeting online, yes, they do tend to be very visual, but in real life people interested in a relationship are looking at common interests, humor, and intellect,” says Spira.

A recent survey from supports Spira’s opinion. It found uniqueness trumped attractiveness as the most important factor in choosing a romantic partner, and a plethora of similar surveys on the site draw similar conclusions.

Spira also points out we’re not as shallow online as the OkCupid studies might suggest.

“The entirety of the internet and social media emphasizes visuality, not just dating websites,” she reasons, “hence the popularity of Tinder and Instagram.”

So, yes, be conscious of your photos, but the more information you present in your profile the less they will matter. When you’re actually out on the date, it turns out they won’t matter at all.