Initial contact on dating websites: results and strategies from the L.U.R.E. project.

Author:Marelich, William D.


The current research explored characteristics in online dating profiles that lead to initial contact. Dating websites have been a growth area since the onset of the Internet in the 1990's, with over 20 million people visiting dating websites monthly (Online Dating Magazine, 2011).

Research evaluating online dating interactions have provided findings similar to those in "live" dating settings (e.g., a preference for individuals who are more attractive than themselves with high-incomes, similar education levels/personalities, men's preference for younger mates, and women's preference for older mates; Hitsch, Hortascu, & Ariely, 2010).

What characteristics in an online profile lead or "lure" someone to initiate contact? We believe contact initiation is driven by a number of factors. These include:

(a) basic attraction characteristics from reflecting Social Exchange Theory (e.g., physical beauty, social status)

(b) males' role to pursue females (suggesting males will initiate contact) as supported through Evolutionary Psychology (e.g., Buss, 1994)

(c) profiles which are unique, reflecting Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (Timmor & Katz-Navon, 2008).

Method: The L.U.R.E. Project

The L.U.R.E. project (L.U.R.E.--Latent Unbosomed Relational Elements) began in 2011 to evaluate online dating and initial contact characteristics.

Data here were taken from 49 posted profiles on 6 online dating websites, with postings made in 10 large U.S. cities on a rolling basis.

Dating profiles were constructed with pictures from public domain resources, and varied by gender, picture attraction, personal demographics/characteristics, and sexual proclivity. Pictures were also repeated, altering profiles to investigate changes in initial contact based on various profile characteristics.

Profiles were posted for 7 days then removed, and counts were made of initial e-mail contacts (e-mails were never opened, nor were winks, views, flirts, or cybergifts). IRB approval was obtained for the study methods.


--The mean number of initial contact e-mails over the 7-day period was 30.08, with most received the first few days of posting.

--For gender, a large discrepancy in contacts was noted, with females receiving an average of 54.62 e-mails vs. males who received an average of 2.35 (t[47] = 3.13, p = .003).

--For both men/women, age had little diminishing effect on initial contacts.

--Female profiles noting cavalier sexual attitudes received more e-mails than...

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