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Online dating offers a solution, because you can see who first contacts whom, and whether the recipient responds to that initial message. So for this paper, the scientists used anonymized data from an unnamed dating site for nearly , users across four U. Rather than gauge individual attractiveness or desirability themselves, the scientists relied on the site users to do the rankings: Users were ranked as more desirable depending on how many first messages they received, and depending on how desirable the senders themselves were.

It's an iterative algorithm called PageRank, used by Google to rank websites in their search engine results.

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The most popular person in their data set was a year-old woman in New York who received 1, messages, about one every half hour. Then, to make their calculations, they essentially placed all the users on a scale of 0 to 1. The least desirable man and woman in each city had a score of 0 and the most desirable man and woman had a score of 1, with everyone else's score in between.


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The scientists found that men and women sent initial messages to potential partners who were more desirable than them—men went 26 percent higher on average, while the women aimed 23 percent higher. Did these users simply think they were more desirable than they were?

File:Dating Dos and Donts (1949).webm

Or did they know that they were seeking out relatively more attractive mates? To find out, the scientists analyzed the messages they sent, picking up clear patterns. Women consistently sent more positively worded messages to men when the "desirability gap" was greater, the scientists said—a sign that they were putting in more effort for a more desirable man.

Men, however, did the opposite: They sent less positively worded messages to more desirable women. Strangely, the men's strategy seemed to work.

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In all four cities, men had slightly lower reply rates from women when they wrote more positively worded messages. Bruch said one of her graduate students is developing an explanation for why this strategy seems to work.

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Another common tactic men and women employed was to send desirable prospects longer messages, but it didn't seem to result in a higher response rate, she said. There was one exception: Seattle men had the "most pronounced" rise in message length for desirable partners, and the strategy seemed to work, resulting in a higher response rate.

Seattle is also a market where straight men may have to work harder to find a date, the researchers pointed out. It seems that people do seek out more desirable partners, but that desirability is closely calibrated to their own attractiveness.

As it turns out, aspirational message-sending does work—not all the time, and less often when the desirability gap is bigger. For men seeking more desirable women , the response rate went as high as 21 percent—high enough that the effort may be worth it, the scientists said. Bruch also pointed to other research indicating that, essentially, people are at their most superficial in the earliest stages of when they meet, and begin to value other characteristics as they get to know each other.

Perhaps studying the number of follow-up messages, or the contents of the replies, could start to shed more light on that dynamic, Bruch said. In the meantime, Bruch said the findings from Seattle—where men wrote longer messages and were also rewarded for it, in contrast to New York, Boston and Chicago—has inspired her to look deeper into the differences in dating experiences between different cities.

In the game of online dating, men and women try to level up, study finds

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