Framing Effects in Online Dating: Nice Guys Have a Leg Up

In modern society, online dating is becoming more prevalent, which creates an interesting dating dynamic because prospects can be compared side to side- you can literally swipe past someone who you view is flawed. However our choice to swipe past is not limited to their physical and emotional characteristics but also the order in which potential dates are presented. This is because framing, the order in which things are presented, influences our construals of the world.

Earlier this year Stephanie S. Spielmann and  Geoff MacDonald conducted a study that examined the role of contrast and framing effects on evaluations of dating targets. They conducted two separate experiments. In study one, 94 heterosexual females viewed a series of four online dating profiles made by the experimenters. The dating profiles were comprised of four photographs, two of which were found to be ‘unattractive’ and two that were ‘highly attractive’ by pilot testing. These pictures were matched with descriptions found to convey either responsiveness such as: “When I’m dating someone, I really care about putting in the effort and making it work” or a description that was found to impart unresponsiveness, for instance: “I get bored talking about feelings and stuff and I’m not really into talking about people’s problems.”

The experimenters hypothesized that the order in which the dating profiles were presented would have an effect on the interest of a prospective date. Each possible combination of attractiveness and responsiveness was used, and the order of these combinations were directly manipulated by the experimenters. There were two orders in which the created profiles were presented: a responsive first condition which went Responsive/Attractive, Responsive/ Unattractive, Unresponsive/Attractive, Unresponsive/Unattractive, and an unresponsive first condition with the order being: Unresponsive/Attractive, Unresponsive/Unattractive, Responsive/Attractive, Responsive/Unattractive.

The experiment had participants rate each profile on perceived responsiveness, attractiveness and the level of romantic interest they personally felt toward the target profile. The results found that responsive targets were rated as more attractive following unresponsive targets, responsive targets were rated as even more responsive when following an unresponsive target, and that romantic interest increased for responsive profiles in the unresponsive first condition. These results support the hypothesis that the order in which dating profiles are presented in has an effect on dating decisions and romantic interest.

Study 1 confirmed the hypothesis and also had another surprising result. Target profiles with a high responsiveness rate were deemed as more attractive following an unresponsive target, and so the experimenters conducted a second study to confirm this result. In order to systematically test this, Study 2 involved both men and women. Study 2 also limited the number of conditions, having only unattractiveness paired with high responsiveness. Study 2 confirmed that responsiveness had a greater effect on perceived romantic interest than attractiveness if it was shown after an unresponsive profile. This can be seen in figure 1.
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One critique of these studies is that participants were forced to choose between two options, however, these two options were not the same for every participant. Furthermore it is possible that participants were more willing to rate an unattractive yet responsive target as more romantically appealing in order to avoid judgment from experimenters. It is also likely that participants were engaging system two because they were under observation, which is something that might not occur outside of a laboratory setting. The experiment also fails to emulate the real world of online dating because it only offered four options for each participant. In reality, online daters are presented with an almost limitless number of options which could have an enormous effect on perceptions.


Spielmann, S. S., & Macdonald, G. (2016). Nice guys finish first when presented second: Responsive daters are evaluated more positively following exposure to unresponsive daters. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 64, 99-105.

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