Smiling makes you more attractive. But is that the kind of attention you want? Turns out, there’s some surprising science behind smiling, attraction, and online dating profile photos.
Attractive faces are a social signal that impact your social life and opportunities, including mate choice. When people see an attractive face, parts of their brain light up that associated with stimulus and reward. When the attractive face is smiling, the viewer’s medial orbitofrontal cortex light up even more.
Men rate faces as slightly more important than bodies when rating a woman’s attractiveness. Women shown smiling or with a neutral face are rated as more attractive than those shown with sad faces. Tyra Banks famously instructed models how to “smize”, or smile with their eyes (WikiHow provides a step-by-step tutorial).
For anyone with an online dating profile, these findings mean that a smiling picture is going to get you more clicks (if you’re a girl). A recent review of 7,000 OKCupid.com profile photos found that people are more likely to click on photos of women who are smiling or flirting with the camera. (Remember to show your left side – it shows more emotion). Now, here’s where the data starts to get interesting.
The women who get the most clicks “flirt” with the camera (make the dreaded duck face), take one-armed selfies and show a little cleavage. They are less likely to get clicks if their photo shows them doing something interesting, drinking alcohol or posing with an animal. However, those latter women may have the last laugh. They are more likely to attract viewers who will start an actual conversation.
We like eye candy but start conversations with people who make themselves three dimensional. EHarmony found that the most successful profile photos were landscape and 3×4 portrait sizes – close enough to see your face, enough of your body to see you’re not hiding anything.
The same goes for men. Viewers clicked more on photos of men who gaze off camera, don’t smile, and take shirtless pictures showcasing their abs. An eHarmony study defined this perhaps a little better – women like pictures of men showing pride. However, while viewers check out the hotties with six packs, out they actually start conversations with men whose photos show them smiling and doing something outdoors or with an animal. The worst performing photos are extreme close ups, too far away to make out the person, or narrow portrait photos where an ex has clearly been cropped out (tacky).