Sorry, women who lament the frustrations of dating apps, but here’s some more bad news: When it comes to deciding whether to go au naturel or get dolled up for your profile picture, there’s no good answer.
A new study, published in the journal New Media and Society, looked to analyze how men and women perceive profile photos on dating apps, and founded some key differences.
Inspired by anecdotal stories of how acquaintances found pictures on real dating apps they used to be “too hot” for a dating website, the researchers had 305 men and women look at a simulated dating profile of a person of the opposite sex. (The subjects were only heterosexual men and women.)
Study participants were surveyed about their opinions of either a photo of an actor who was either natural, with no makeup, or the same actor in professional makeup, lighting, hairstyling and camera angles. All other biographical details included on the profile were left the same.
Unsurprisingly, both sexes found that the enhanced picture of the actor to be more attractive. But while women also found the done-up images to depict men who were more trustworthy, men had the opposite take: They found the natural image to be more trustworthy.
This surprised the researchers, who had predicted that the halo effect — the tendency for impressions in one area to influence our opinion of another — would lead the participants to rate the more attractive portrayal as more trustworthy, too.
Here’s the rub: Though men may have found the woman in makeup to be less trustworthy, they were still more interested in dating her, compared to the same exact woman who went natural.
The researchers tried to rationalize this: “Men may take more risks in online dating due to the higher failure rate they experience when attempting to communicate with women online,” which they draw from previous research. (It’s worth noting that the study defines dating pretty casually, having asked the participants to answer, “If this person asked me out on a date I would say yes” and “I would give this person my phone number in hopes of furthering a relationship.” Trustworthiness may not be as important in these situations.)
Regardless, the study’s findings reveal that men would probably do best by ditching the mirror pic and upping their profile pic game. For women, it’s far less clear. If you choose to keep your profile pic chill and natural, you may not be seen as attractive as if you’d styled yourself to the nines. But, if you do decide to go with a more picture-perfect shot, you might viewed as more untrustworthy, though somehow more dateable. Good luck striking that balance, I guess?
This story originally appeared on Vocativ and has been republished with permission.