Language errors in online dating

Impression formation in online dating: the effects of language errors in profile texts

Porbably , this sentense is already enough foryou to form an first impression about mine 

You would probably think the writer of the sentence above is a lazy writer who put minimal time and effort in. Maybe you would even think the writer is just plain dumb. In any case, the example above clearly shows that language errors have a great influence on our first impressions. 

Whether you like it or not, it is almost impossible not to form impressions of others. We humans excel in it, and only need the tiniest bit of information to activate the impression formation process. Especially when we encounter strangers, the first impression develops automatically and effortlessly. Previous studies have found that when people were shown a picture of someone, they needed less than 50 milliseconds to form impressions about the person’s attractiveness, trustworthiness, competence, as well as about whether the person is threatening, higher in hierarchy, dominant, and so on. 

Compared to face to face encounters, the number of cues that can be used in online environments to form impressions is reduced; cues of smell, voice and body language are, for example, not available. Because of these minimal cues available in an online setting, the cues that can be used become more important when forming impressions than they would do in a face to face setting. Language errors could be one such cue that could weigh heavily when there are only few cues to rely on.  

Online daters use a cue like language errors to form impressions about a profile owner, such as about attractiveness. This is what I found out in a study I recently conducted with my colleagues Alexander Schouten, Maria Mos and Emiel Krahmer, among 800 members of the dating site Parship. Parship is a traditional profile-based dating site, where the profile picture and text are presented as equally important profile components, which differs from more photo-reliant dating platforms, such as Tinder. Our results show that profile owners with language errors in their profiles are perceived as less socially and romantically attractive than those without errors. Profile owners with and without language errors in their profiles were perceived as equally good-looking.  

All different kinds of attributions come along with language errors. As you probably experienced yourself in the beginning, this could differ from inattentiveness to lacking intelligence or even both. Perhaps without being aware, you associated the different types of errors I made to particular personality traits. This accords with what we found in another study we conducted: different personality traits that are tied to different language error types mediate perceptions of attractiveness. On the one hand, we found that typographical errors (‘porbably’ for ‘probably’) lead to lower scores on attentiveness, which in turn, lead to lower attractiveness scores. Lower intelligence scores, on the other hand, mediated the relationship between rule-based errors (‘mine’ for ‘me’) and attractiveness.  

These results show that people seem to use language errors as a cue to form impressions about attractiveness and personality traits (e.g., attentiveness, intelligence). One of the reasons is that language errors are made unintentionally. In contrast with a lot of other information that people intentionally provide in their profile text to present themselves in the most positive way, language errors provide information that is not controlled by the profile owner. This increases the value of the cue, as it provides more information about the profile owner’s actual self rather than the desired self.  

What is the best tip I can give based on these findings? Obviously, try to avoid language errors! But, if you’re not sure whether you can write a flawless text, all hope isn’t lost. Quite a high percentage of our participants did not notice the language errors in the profiles they saw. These people did not use language errors as a cue to form impressions and make decisions. Profile owners with and without errors in their profiles were rated as similarly attractive by them.  

~ Tess v.d. Zande, 2019

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