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Putting Your Best Face Forward: The Accuracy of Online Dating Photographs


This study examines the accuracy of 54 online dating photographs posted by heterosexual daters. We report data on (a1) online daters’ self-reported accuracy, (b) independent judges’ perceptions of accuracy, and (c) inconsistencies in the profile photograph identified by trained coders. While online daters rated their photos as relatively accurate, independent judges rated approximately 1/3 of the photographs as not accurate. Female photographs were judged as less accurate than male photographs, and were more likely to be older, to be retouched or taken by a professional photographer, and to contain inconsistencies, including changes in hair style and skin quality. The findings are discussed in terms of the tensions experienced by online daters to (a) enhance their physical attractiveness and (b) present a photograph that would not be judged deceptive in subsequent face-to-face meetings. The paper extends the theoretical concept of selective self-presentation to online photographs, and discusses issues of self-deception and social desirability bias.

J.T. Hancock
C. Toma
Journal of Communication, 59, 367-386
Publication Date
June 1, 2009