So you've spent the last 20 minutes in a Tinder daze, mindlessly swiping right and left on dozens of people whose faces you can't even really remember at this point, you've gone through so many of them. You're not alone — 25 percent of Millennials say they find dates online, and most admit to spending up to two hours a week perusing their apps for matches. But what makes people swipe right on dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid? Although it might seem like your thumbs just go into autopilot once you have your smartphone out and your apps open, science suggests that's not actually the case — there's a reason you're swiping right on some people and not others.
It all goes back to first impressions. We only spend about one-tenth of a second actually looking at someone's profile, so it's safe to say that choosing to swipe left or right on someone is literally a split-second decision. In the latest episode of Love Factually , Bustle's video series exploring the science behind our dating and relationship behaviors, a team of experts discusses just what makes some profiles so successful over others (hint: it's all about your photos, although I'm guessing any ardent app user probably already knew that).
So what's really going through our heads while we furiously swipe through profiles? Dr. Laura Germine, researcher in psychiatric genetics, Dr. Chris Olivola, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and Jimena Almendares, OkCupid's Chief Product Officer, help us to break it down.
1. We all have different ideas of what makes someone attractive
Alright, so you might be thinking to yourself, "duh," but attraction varies from person to person. Of course, there are certain physical characteristics that are considered attractive by most people — for instance, faces that are symmetrical, or ones that appear healthy. But as Dr. Laura Germine tells Bustle, despite these universal traits, there's going to be a lot of disparity between who I find attractive, versus who you find attractive. Our personal taste is usually a reflection of what we've been exposed to during our lives. "A lot of the variations are probably coming from people's individual environments," Germine says.
2. We're drawn to profiles of people who look like us
You read that right, we're all a bunch of narcissists... sort of. In one recent study, participants were asked to rate the sexual appeal of complete strangers based on only photos of their faces. Then, they were exposed to pictures of the same strangers' faces morphed with their own faces. It sounds weird, but the majority of participants were more drawn to the morphed versions. As Dr. Germine explains, "Facial features that are familiar to us, we tend to find more attractive, probably because of the sheer level of exposure we have to those sorts of facial features."
3. We use profile pics to form judgements about personality, too
Alright, so we can tell just by looking at someone whether or not we find them physically attractive, but according to Dr. Chris Olivola, we also assume things about someone's personality just by looking at their photos, too. "We don't just judge a person's attractiveness. We also form judgments about things like whether they're trustworthy, whether they're competent, and so on," he says. And, those perceived personality traits that we find ourselves drawn to varies for men and women. Men who appear more fun and outgoing in their profile are more successful than guys who appear more reserved. Likewise, women who appear smart or serious in their photos receive fewer messages. I know, I know — but before you delete all your dating apps, read on to point number four.
4. We look for traits that are unique
People who are considered super attractive by some and less so by others still typically tend to receive more messages than those who are considered moderately attractive by most. The reason? Because their unique traits — which might be a turnoff to some — are valued more highly by those who do find them attractive. The takeaway? Playing up your unique traits helps you stand out. OkCupid's Jimena Almendares explains that women who include photos of themselves taken outdoors typically receive more messages. Photos where women are smiling and looking at the camera also tend to be more successful.
As Love Factually's host Anna Parsons points out, at the end of the day, online dating isn't about getting the most matches — it's about getting that one match with the person who's right for you. So, don't bum yourself out if you don't immediately match with every single person you come across on your apps. Present yourself in a way that feels most natural to you, and just remember that somewhere out there, it's exactly what someone else is looking for.