4 Myths of Online Dating Photos Revealed

Guys hoping to get noticed on online dating sites should take off their shirts, at least those with six-pack abs, according to new survey results by one online matchmaker that also provide advice for gals' profile pics.

"We were sitting on a treasure trove of data," said Sam Yagan, co-founder and CEO of OkCupid. ''There are millions of experiments essentially happening on our site every day."

Yagan and his colleagues catalogued more than 7,000 profile photographs from OkCupid.com, looking at facial attitude, such as whether the person is smiling; context of photo, such as whether the image was taken outdoors or in a bedroom; and how much skin is bared. Pictures came from those ages 18 to 32 who lived in big cities. The data didn't include the most and least attractive photos in order to just look at certain photo factors rather than the attractiveness of the person.

The results may hold for anyone looking for love, regardless of whether it's digital dating. For instance, whether or not to have a profile photo is a no-brainer: It's pretty much essential.

"It would be like going into a bar with a bag on your head; people aren't going to come talk to you," Yagan told LiveScience. "Dating is dating whether it happens online or offline."

But in terms of the details on these profile pics, Yagan and his team bust four myths:

Myth No. 1. You should smile.

Not if you're a guy. Photos in which men were looking away from the camera and not smiling had the most success in getting messages from possible dates.

"If you're looking straight at a camera for a male, that can be intimidating to a woman," Yagan said. "But if someone is looking off past you that can, in many ways, be less threatening and more approachable."

For the ladies, while a smile isn't a turn-off, the results suggested she should look straight at the camera with a pouty-face smile. And in fact women seem to be in the know, as they smile almost twice as often as men and make that flirty face four times as often.

Myth No. 2. Don't take your online photo with your phone or webcam.

That advice seemed solid, as cell-phone and webcams take low-end photos. In addition, the photo's context can make for a boring shot not to mention the creepiness of someone lurking in front of the computer snapping their own pictures, the OkCupid team says.

But it's wrong. These presumably lower-quality photos were just as successful, if not more so, at reeling in date messages. For instance, self-shot photos for women resulted in 8.75 new contacts from men per month, compared with 8.67 from average female photos not taken with a phone or webcam. There wasn't much difference for men either.

Looking at just female photos, results showed the so-called MySpace shot, in which the gal holds her phone above her head and looks up with a coy face, was best hands down. That result held even when the team controlled for cleavage shown at that angle.

Yagan suggests that self-taken photos have a sense of authenticity.

"There's a level of intimacy and honesty in a shelf-shot photo. It has a sense of 'hot off the presses, this is me in real time, unadulterated, not prettied up,'" Yagan said. "And there's something very spontaneous about it."

Myth No. 3. Guys should keep their shirts on.

"The 'ab shot' actually does quite well," Yagan said. But he admits there is a selection bias, as the guys who bare their six-packs actually have them. Guys with fit bodies did better at getting messages if they took their shirt off than if they left it on.

Even so, that six-pack has a short shelf life, the team says. While a 19-year-old showing abs garnered more contacts from women than the average photo, that same ab shot for a 31-year-old didn't give him much boost over the average male photo.

Essentially, you should show off your best asset, whether that's your abs or your activities or smarts, Yagan said.

The female analogue of the ab shot is the cleavage shot. Ladies who showed some cleavage got 49 percent more contacts than the average photo. And this advantage went up with age. A 32-year-old woman showing her body received one fewer message than the equivalent 18 year-old, but an "older woman" showing no cleavage got 4 fewer messages compared with a young gal. (In general, women get fewer new messages as they age.)

Myth No. 4. Always show your face.

The dating site even encourages members to make sure people can "see your face" on the upload-photo page. But the new survey suggests with all other things equal, whether or not you show your face has no impact on the number of messages you receive. A face-less picture could work to someone's advantage they found, as long as the member showed some image that was unusual, mysterious or otherwise alluring.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.