Romance is a great domain to investigate self-delusion because it is so personal. And since on-line dating sites are still incredibly popular and contain so much data, we can mine it for many insights. And thanks to Chris McKinlay, we have PhD quality evidence. Some of his best conclusions are visualized here.
But before I get myself into a lot of hot water by being politically incorrect, let me first say that these insights also apply to lots of other situations. Companies are increasingly trying to match their recruiting process with their corporate culture, so finding a match between their prospects profiles (perhaps on LinkedIn) and their culture is susceptible to the same biases. Mentoring programs might need to consider these when matching mentors and protégés. Even organizations like Big Brother Big Sister might need to think about it. In each of these cases, people may be idealizing themselves, deluding themselves, and so on.
Of course, in this case Chris’ mission was to find himself the perfect match on OKCupid. I am going to flip his results over and talk about the delusions evident in his data. And speculate a little as to why they are so common.
One of his findings is that when people are describing themselves in their profiles, they highlight features that potential matches don’t care about and then neglect to highlight the features that potential matches are looking for. For example, men are most likely to describe their best feature as their eyes (50%) or their butt (9% – a serious dropoff). But women report that the most important features to them when looking at men’s profiles are chest (11%) and stomach (also 11%). Either men have no clue about what women want (link to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207201) or the women are lying. Same thing happens in reverse. Women list their best feature as their eyes (57%) or their legs (13%). But men say they are looking at stomach (13%) and arms (12%).
Of course, people have been saying since the dawn of time that the genders don’t understand each other. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? But it also happens with same sex searches, where the gender difference doesn’t come into play. Gay men list their best feature as eyes (47%) or legs (14%) but seekers say they are looking for arms (13%) or chest (12%). Gay women list eyes (54%) or lips (11%) but seekers list legs (13%) or stomach (12%).
Is this really an example of total cluelessness? I actually have another hypothesis. I suspect that when we are making up our dating profiles, insecurity is the feature that we all have in common. If you claim that your arms or stomach are your best feature, there are common and visible criteria for judging them. You can’t fake it. On the other hand, eyes are totally subjective. So if you claim your eyes are your best feature, no one can call you a liar. Is it a surprise that over 50% of people list that as their best feature, even though few of the seekers seem to care?
Then there are also some interesting examples of what seem like pure hypocrisy. Men who refer to women as “women” are more likely to get picked. But a woman is more likely to get picked if she refers to herself as a “girl.”
Another interesting discrepancy is that as income goes up, men are more likely to be liars about the income they are looking for in a match. Higher income men are more likely to break their financial requirements as lower income men. But the opposite happens with women. Lower income women are more likely to break their financial requirements as higher income women. Both of these relationships (pun intended) are pretty linear as you go up the scale.
The two companion articles in Wired have a lot more data to enjoy. I recommend reading the whole thing.