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Feb 11, 2015 11:24 PM EST

Online Dating: People Are Looking for a Perfect Match, Not a Perfect Person


New research suggests that most people using online dating services are searching for a perfect match, not a perfect person.

Researchers at the University of Iowa say that people who are looking for love online are less apt to trust a person with a flashy profile, preferring instead a potential partner who appears not only successful, but humble and real as well.

"We found people want to contact a person who appears to be accurate in what they are saying about themselves online," Andy High, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor in the University of Iowa's Department of Communication Studies, said in a statement. "It's tough when it comes to dating profiles because we want someone who seems like an amazing person, but we also hopefully will have a relationship with this individual, so we want them to exist."

According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, as many as one in 10 Americans age 18 and older use online dating sites or a mobile dating app.

For the study, High and colleagues created eight online dating profiles -- four men and four women- - with various combinations of two perspectives. One perspective is called "Selective Self-Presentation," or what the researchers refer to as SSP, which is a profile that highlights only what's "good" about a person and downplays the rest. The other is called "Warranting," which is a profile that contains information easily traced to a real person.

Once the profiles were created in a template from OKCupid -- a free, online dating service -- they were shown to 317 adults who said they were using or had used an online dating service. There were 150 men and 167 women, and the mean age was 40.

Participants were asked to judge the profiles and decide which ones they would contact. Researchers expected that profiles that were presented with high selective self-presentation -- those who sounded perfect -- and high warranting -- those who provided specifics that could be traced to a real person -- would be the most popular.

They were wrong.

"I thought people would think, 'Not only is this person the greatest in the world, but they're real, too. Wow!' but I was wrong," Crystal Wotipka, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "It was the low SSP" and high warranting "that ended up winning out."

In other words, people were turned off by profiles that sounded too good to be true. This was especially true for viewers who said they preferred online social interaction. Researchers found the more specific information a profile contained that could be traced to a real person, the more the viewer trusted the profile.

High says the key to creating an attractive online dating profile is balance.

"You want to balance all that is wonderful about yourself with some things that aren't negative, but more humble or realistic about yourself," he said. "It's important to put your best foot forward," he adds, "but maybe not in your best pair of shoes."

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