The Lies We Tell When Online Dating

Whether it’s online dating or our resumes, it’s perhaps natural for people to embellish themselves a little, but as we present ourselves online an increasing amount, researchers are beginning to better understand the nuances of how we do so.

A recent study from Stanford researchers explored the various ways we massage the truth on online dating profiles.  The researchers recruited several hundred volunteers who use mobile apps for dating.  They trawled through a few thousand messages sent by these people to potential dates, whilst asking each volunteer to rate the level of deceptiveness in each message.

Massaging the truth

Ok, the good news first.  By and large, the majority of people are honest in what they revealed to potential dates.  Roughly 2/3 of the volunteers didn’t tell any lies, but there were roughly 7% of messages that were rated as deceptive.

The majority of these lies were driven by the desire to appear more attractive to their potential date.  This could involve exaggerating personal interests, or it might be coming across as not ‘too’ available.

“Being always available might also come across as being desperate. Therefore, people will lie about their availability or their current activities,” the authors say.

They’re what the authors refer to as ‘butler lies’, which are lies used as a polite way of concealing unwanted social interactions.  Such lies accounted for roughly 30% of all lies told during the experiment.

Sometimes, these lies were told to decelerate the relationship.  For instance, one participant blamed their technology for not replying to the messages of their potential date.  Of course, their technology was fine, they just weren’t interested in that person.

“These data suggest that technology can serve as a buffer to discontinue or delay future communication activities between daters,” the authors explain.

Of course, it’s one thing to lie to others, but how did people react when being lied to themselves?  As you can perhaps expect, when people were prone to lying themselves, they also suspected others of lying more frequently to them as well.  It’s a trend the researchers refer to as the deception consensus effect.  In other words, when we consider how other people behave, we’re biased by our own behavior.

Nonetheless, the fact that overall, lying appears to be quite rare on dating platforms leaves the researchers feeling broadly optimistic.

“The data suggest that mobile dating deceptions are strategic and relatively constrained. Most of the messages people report sending are honest and this is a positive step toward building trust in a new romantic relationship,” they conclude.