The XX Factor

Flirt Directly at the Camera

As someone who spent a good swath of her 20s happily trolling online dating sites, I was intrigued by this post on OKTrends , the stats-tastic blog from the founders of romance-and-quizzes site OKCupid .

The founders-all math majors from Harvard-dipped into their dataset and analyzed 7,000 profile pictures to figure out which images were the most successful. Some of the most interesting tidbits:

-For women, eye contact is better than no eye contact, and a straight-on “flirty-face” gets more attention than a smile. Weirdly, men get the best results when they don’t smile and they look away from the camera.

-The much-maligned “MySpace shot”-a self-portrait snapped with a camera held above your head-was far and away the most successful photo strategy for women, even when said photo didn’t include gratuitous peeks of cleavage.

-In general, though, showing your boobs is a good idea. (No, that’s not the surprising part. This is:) The older you are, the bigger the benefits of flashing your Hidden Valley.

-Photos in which you’re doing something interesting increases your chances of actually having a conversation with someone.

Profile photos say a lot about who we think we are and how we want to be perceived. But the online dating photo offers so much more delicious psychoanalytic potential, because now we’re not just talking about your neuroses, but also those of everyone who’s looking at your photos. (Surely someone out there has written a media studies thesis on profile photos by now, yes?)

Anyhow, I’ll offer myself up as an illustrative example here. The photo on the left, with the goggles, is the one that accompanied my dating profile for a long time. To me, this photo says: I’m fun! I’m a conversationalist! I’m ready to do wacky experiments with you! But when I posted the photo on the right, my response rate really shot up-without any changes to the text of my profile.

Perhaps OKTrends can shed some light on this uptick. This second image, as we can see, showcases the third-most successful of six possible “facial attitude” (no eye contact and a smile), while the first uses the second-least successful (no eye contact and no smile). No. 2 is also a self-shot, though whether it’s a classic “MySpace shot” is debatable. No word from the OKCupid team on whether black-and-white is better than color.

What about you? Which of your online dating photos have gotten the best responses? And which photos do you find yourself being drawn to?