To Catch Someone On Tinder, Stretch Your Arms Wide

Originally published on April 14, 2016 8:07 pm

If you're young and single, chances are you're rejecting potential dates left and right on apps like Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid.

It's a brutal virtual world. Hundreds of people are whittled down to a few in minutes. In the seconds you lingered on one person's profile, four pictures and an ambiguous job title, what made you swipe him or her to the right?

First impressions count in ways you might not expect. How people sit or where their arms and legs are in the images they share seem to loom large in potential daters' calculations, according to experiments involving speed dating and an online dating app.

In these experiments, the researchers compared young adults' closed, slouched postures against open, or expanded, ones.

"An expansive, open posture involves widespread limbs, a stretched torso and general enlargement of occupied space," says Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley and lead author on the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the 144 speed daters, Vacharkulksemsuk says, "expansiveness nearly doubles chances of getting a yes [to see each other again.]"

Separately, she and her colleagues had three men and three women create two dating profiles each on a popular dating app. (All six participants were white and heterosexual). Their profiles were identical in every way except the pictures in one profile were all expanded postures, while its twin had all contracted poses.

The participants swiped yes on every potential suitor — 3,000 in total — for 48 hours. "Profiles that feature expansive photos were 27 percent more likely to get a yes," Vacharkulksemsuk says. Expanding made both men and women more desirable during speed dating and in the dating app. The effect was more pronounced for men, however.

These postures convey power and openness, says Vacharkulksemsuk. "The information packing in that nonverbal behavior is social dominance, and where that person stands in a hierarchy," she says. And, presumably, the person high in the pecking order is sexy. Alphas are scarce and in demand.

On the other hand, Alpha Boy could be a cocky jerk. "Not everyone is going to go for someone showing an expansive posture," says Jessica Tracy, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia who didn't work on the study." We have evidence that sometimes these kinds of open displays lead to problems. It can look arrogant."

Over-expanding can backfire. Think manspreading, for example, when the guy next to you on the bus or subway pushes a leg into your space to give himself a little more air. A display like that may go over as poorly on Tinder as it does on public transportation, where it is most, um, widespread.

But, in general, expansive postures are more attractive, Tracy says. "We know these displays communicate high status and rank. And it is adaptive from a purely financial perspective to mate or marry or whatever a woman who does have high rank, right?"

Often, you can see also somebody's alma mater and job title. But Joel Wade, a social psychologist at Bucknell University who wasn't involved with the work, says these nonverbal signals might trump other info. "I should say we are ingrained, wired, biologically predisposed to notice these behaviors," he says "The proverbial behavior doesn't lie. Maybe [we think] the picture shows more credibility."

With the scant information available to people making online dating decisions, Vacharkulksemsuk thinks those deep biological predispositions become very influential. "The most exciting, coolest [part of] these results are capturing something very special about what dating looks like in the current day," she says. "This is just that initial first step. How do I even get that first date?"

But posturing and gesturing isn't all that makes someone desirable. And if you've ever stretched out your arms for a hug and gotten a handshake, you know that sometimes expanding doesn't always help.

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When it comes to dating, we all know a good first impression can be crucial. On dating apps, that means coming up with an attractive bio and photo. NPR's Angus Chen reports on a new study that suggests one way to improve your chances of love is by changing the pose in your profile picture.

ANGUS CHEN, BYLINE: I'm sitting with my friend Elissa Nadworny. She's also a reporter here at NPR. And she's on the dating app Tinder, flicking through people's photos.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Not interested. No, not interested - too close.

CHEN: Whittling dozens of men down to a very small, very select few.


CHEN: And Elissa's handing out these judgments literally in seconds, without really knowing anything about these people. what is it about those photos that makes you swipe left or right?

NADWORNY: Oh, yeah.

CHEN: Now, tell me why you're saying yes.

NADWORNY: So he looks like his - he's about to, like, fly. Like, his arms are out. He's, like, standing on a chair or something. Yeah, I don't know. It just feels like he would be fun.

CHEN: Fun, warm, open - just because his arms are out. Social psychologist Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk at UC Berkeley says the poses we strike in these photos can really influence how people perceive us, like how attractive we seem. She conducted a study using a dating app. She had six people each make two different profiles, one where they had expanded postures...

TANYA VACHARKULKSEMSUK: Widespread limbs - in general just taking up more space.

CHEN: And one where they had contracted postures.

VACHARKULKSEMSUK: Limbs, like your legs and your arms, are held more closely to the torso.

CHEN: She found that the profiles with the expanded poses got 27 percent more matches than the contracted profiles. She thinks that's because they're sending the right signals.

VACHARKULKSEMSUK: Humans are remarkably good at picking up information in milliseconds about another person.

CHEN: And she says an expanded posture implies openness and social dominance.

VACHARKULKSEMSUK: Where that person stands in a hierarchy. Dominance also has to do with resources.

CHEN: That's pretty desirable. A lot of people want a partner with rank. But don't overdo it, says psychologist Joel Wade from Bucknell University.

JOEL WADE: Dominant behavior is attractive, but it also has to be open. If it's just dominant, it's a turnoff.

CHEN: And contracted posters may be a turnoff. But then, my friend Elissa used a photo for her profile where her arms are tucked by her side.

NADWORNY: It's kind of, like, that's who I am. I take pictures in the bathroom, so I shouldn't really hide from my identity.

CHEN: I guess just go with whatever feels right. Angus Chen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.