Why Dating Site Profile Pictures Differ

  • Source: Nejron/Shutterstock

    About 20 percent of all pictures in online dating are selfies.

  • The average male American online dater is 5’8’’ tall, bearded and has black hair.
  • The average female American online dater has long brown hair and is 5’5’’ tall.
  • More than 80% of pictures posing with luxury vehicles are men.
  • The gender ratios of online daters with wedding pics and pictures with children in them is nearly equal.
  • About 13% of all profile pictures are group photos.

Your profile picture is the first thing potential dates see when they browse your online profile and it is therefore important to get this right. After all, it is vitally important to make that good first impression, and the way in which you grab the attention of a potential date depends on the way in which you present yourself in your profile. 

In the first study of its kind, online dating experts Dating Scout investigated the types of features online daters include in their dating profile pictures.  In order to do this they analysed over 22 million profile pictures of online daters from the USA and 15 other countries across the world.  They used an artificial intelligence technique to scan profile pictures for around 6,000 characteristics, for example, facial expressions, pictures featuring animals and pictures using different backgrounds.  One of the findings from this extensive study were various gender differences in the ways in which people present themselves and in this article, we look at some of the findings from the Dating Scout study.

How men present themselves

As seen above many men use pictures of themselves engaging in physical sporting activities and showing off their prize possessions such as their cars.  In addition to this, the study found that the average number of photos uploaded is four.   In terms of male appearance generally, 11.5% of males show off their chest muscles.  One third of male profile pictures show men with beards and 13% show males wearing glasses or sunglasses.  However, only 5% of the pictures scanned in this study featured males who were smiling. 

In order to present themselves in a more attractive way and enhance their masculine side, men often attempt to reveal their athletic sides.  Additionally, it seems that a love of big cars is something males tend to show off in online dating profiles.  For example, profiles pictures with pickup trucks are extremely popular among certain age groups.

As men get older (35 to 44) there is evidence that their online dating profiles change and begin to show themselves possessing intellectual expertise also (musical talent for example) or behaving in a way which indicates some degree of relationship commitment.  Between the ages of 45 to 54, men start to present themselves as being laid back or the type to ‘live it up’ a little, with maybe palm trees, flags or morning skies in the background.  Finally, the study discovered that even at age 55 and over, men illustrate that they still want to continue with a good and healthy lifestyle, with photos them running marathons or swimming still featured at this age.

How women present themselves

Source: Blackday/Shutterstock

The Dating Scout study showed that in the USA at least, women use between six and nine profile pictures, with the average being five.  One or two pictures is probably not enough to show how a person may look, while ten or more may be starting to give away too much.  In terms of female appearance, long hair featured over 27% of the time, with detectable smiles being evident in just 13.4% of photos.  The study also showed that muscles were shown 4.5% of the time, although freckles and body piercings were hardly ever evident. 

In terms of age group, 18-24 year-olds appeared in their profile photos as cheerleaders much of the time, which is consistent with what women in this age group may be doing.  What is rather perplexing is that women in this age group also appeared with hedgehogs.  Other characteristics were photos playing volleyball wearing miniskirts and wearing swimsuits.  Moving on to the age group, 25-34 the study revealed that women often feature wearing satin and feminine dresses while holding stylish handbags.  Interestingly in this age group women start to use photos of themselves as bridesmaids, and the wedding might be a subtle hint that they are looking for a longer-term relationship, or more plausibly, they are associating with a peer group who are getting married.  Other common characteristics at this age are women wearing cocktail dresses and wearing academic dress, which is indicative of the age at which they are graduating.  In the age group, 35-44 women tend to feature themselves looking stylish with many photos showing red carpets.  Also in this age group, many sporting activities such as climbing, track and field events, and skiing and water sports are displayed, in addition to travel photos.  Entering the age group 45-54 cowboy hats and Christmas features very highly in female dating pictures, and in terms of sporting activities, swimming, bodybuilding, sailing and running still feature.  Finally, in the age group 55 and over, food, family and pets seem to feature more heavily, as well as those indicating a cultured side with photos displaying museums, and photography.  Interestingly, females in this age group use more professionally taken photos and fewer selfies.

Group photos

Daters apparently do not just upload photos of themselves alone, and 18.5% of all photos in this study were of people in the company of their friends or family.  This at least has the advantage of illustrating that you are not a loner are reasonably skilled at being able to socialise with others.  Obviously, however, you don’t want potential dates to find the people in your photo more attractive than you.  Overall, 54% of females have pictures with other people, compared to 45% of men.

One way in which those looking for a serious long-term relationship can indicate this is to subtly indicate this in their dating profile.  It is possible that online daters who post pictures of themselves as groomsmen or bridesmaids are sending out this subtle message that they associate with friends who are getting married and may be ready to do this themselves.  Dating Scout also speculate that even being considered as a groomsman or a bridesmaid in itself is sending a signal that one is considered important enough for such a role.  Around 56% of males appear in weeding photographs compared to 44% women, with these numbers decreasing, as people get older. 

Similarly, and at the right age, posing in a photo with a child could be interpreted as a subtle signal that a person wants children of his or her own.  Around 47% of males and 53% of females show children in their dating profiles, with the numbers decreasing with age. 

Overall, the gender and age differences in profile pictures are consistent with and support what evolutionary psychology says about the ways in which males and females of different ages advertise themselves to the opposite sex.  It is possible of course, that the findings from this study may differ across different dating platforms, and maybe some future research could tackle this question.  Furthermore, we have to consider exactly what people want from a relationship, and the ways in which they advertise themselves may depend on whether they want a longer-term relationship or a shorter-term liaison.  Finally, we all need to take note that it is fine to advertise yourself in a certain way in a dating profile, but don’t show yourself  looking like you are swimming if you can’t swim, or playing a guitar if you can’t play it.  Dating profile pictures are important in making that important first impression.  However, be truthful.

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