Using the massive stores of data on our platform, we set out to reproduce Ok Cupid’s process (as laid out by the Myths of Profile Pictures post). And in Ok Cupid’s case, it’s reasonable to assume that they got the interesting result they wanted, in part, by cutting out particular populations from their data set. Why did Ok Cupid eliminate users outside of the ages of 18 and 32?
We narrowed the demographics of our data set accordingly, matching their 7,140-photo sample. Ok Cupid used a sample of 7,140 photographs from users aged 18-32, in big cities, possessing average attractiveness (that is, they lopped off the top and bottom 20%), and who had profiles containing only one photo and no text. Why did they eliminate users who were most and least attractive?
The truth is that societal and dating norms have changed a lot in this amount of time. So perhaps giving an air of “I’m too good for this” with a non-smiling, looking away photo and no profile text appealed slightly more to women at the time.
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Before Ok Cupid declared it superior, it was likely 5-10% (200-300 photos split into 3 groups: smiling/not/flirty).
We know for certain that Ok Cupid knowingly made claims based on too little data because they had approximately 7 photos of male “flirty face” with no eye contact and they still drew conclusions about its effectiveness.
Then we ran each picture through a variety of analysis scripts (in our case, neural nets that detected smiles and eye contact) as well as tagged each one by hand until total agreement was reached. The explanation given (that they “[feared it] would skew [their] results”) is no explanation at all.
Finally, we used Photofeeler attractiveness ratings to gauge the success of the various photo types (smiling, not smiling, eye contact, no eye contact). our own: Ok Cupid’s data said that not smiling and not making eye contact was better. They didn’t have to “fear” anything because, in all likelihood, they first ran their numbers with these populations included.
But the number of men who were not smiling and looking away (especially in early 2010, before Ok Cupid advised it) would be in the hundreds at most.
Even today, less than 15% of photos have no eye contact.
Ours says that whether you smile or not makes no statistically-significant difference (except in the case of eye contact and no smile, which is harmful). They just didn’t get as interesting of a result that way.
Here are some possible reasons behind the differing results. Back in 2010, no one would publish “smiling works great in dating photos!! The over-sifting of the data set likely obscured other trends that were more responsible for profile success than the photo characteristics the study claimed to be measuring.
Since Ok Cupid published their data in support of not smiling in pics, the tip has been quoted as gospel truth on dating advice blogs, PUA podcasts, dozens of dating subreddits, forums, everywhere.