How to “Match” Liars Whose Profile Isn’t “eHarmonious” with Reality

For Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided to post a little something out there for all the single people. Not that it’s difficult to find some sort of romantically inclined story to write about. The press offices are sending them out by the dozens.

Today’s post goes out to all of those people out there looking for love online. And no, I’m not talking about you hopeless romantics who have their homepage assigned to www.youporn.com. Today, we’re scientifically exploring the arena of online dating – specifically people’s profiles.

A little over a year ago, I was one of those people wandering through cyberspace looking for a woman to spark my interest. I can happily say that the search ended relatively quickly and I’m still with the woman whose profile caught my eye. And while I never went on any horrible dates with any of the other women I contacted, I have heard stories.

How do you know when that 25-year-old model is really a 30-year-old who used to pose at the dump down the street called PoleKatz? How do you know that picture of the handsome guy isn’t really from the Clinton Administration? And besides big flat-out deceptions such as these, what about the smaller lies like, “I’m not boring in the least,” or, “My friends say I’m a really funny guy?”

A new study from Catalina Toma from the University of Wisconsin has some guidelines for you. Toma took personal profiles and photos from 78 online daters from four matchmaking websites and then compared them to the real people. Linguists then searched for patterns that indicated when the text strayed a bit from the real person.

So what should you look for? People who avoid using the first person, people who often employ negation (such as saying not bald instead of have hair or not stupid instead of Doogie Howser-like), those who refuse to talk about their appearance and really short profiles. Taking these recommendations, researchers were able to spot liars nearly two-thirds of the time, which is a distinct advantage over the common Joe who shoots 50/50.

As for the profiles studied, about 80% strayed from the truth on some level, with the most frequent transgression being weight. Women apparently never step on a scale, as they overshot their weight by an average of 8.5 pounds, compared to men who missed by 1.5 pounds.

“Almost everybody lied about something, but the magnitude was often small,” Toma says.

So to all you Match, eHarmony and OKCupid folks out there, do your best to avoid those creepers out there and watch out for the fibs. And if you really stink at spotting the lies, perhaps someday there might be some help.

“Someday there may be software to tell you how likely it is that the cute person whose profile you’re looking at is lying to you, or even that someone is being deceptive in an e-mail,” Toma says. “But that may take a while.”

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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