According to Christian Rudder of OkTrends, OkCupid’s now defunct research site, 32 percent of all first-time messages attract a reply. In other words, two of every three initial messages are met with silence. But response rates vary widely depending on a few critical word choices. Netspeak is usually disastrous (the response rate for messages featuring “ur,” “r,” and “u” is less than 10 percent), while almost 50 percent of all personalized messages that feature “you mention” or “noticed that” win a reply. The aimless, noncommittal “hi” earns a response 23 percent of the time, while messages featuring the direct question “how’s it going?” attract a 53 percent reply rate. Of course the people who craft these various introductory messages differ on other dimensions as well, but these figures show just how fickle online dating outcomes can be.
But while people labor over their personal messages, another critical factor slips by unnoticed. Several years ago, Andrew Elliot, a professor at the University of Rochester, and his colleagues began by asking heterosexual male undergraduates to spend five seconds looking at the photo of a young female stranger, and to rate her attractiveness on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all attractive) to 9 (extremely attractive). All of the undergrads saw the same woman wearing the same clothes—but the experimenters randomly changed the color of the thick border that framed the photo, alternating among white, red, blue, and green.
Psychologists know some things about color: Blue is the most popular color in the world, black is associated with elegance, wealth, power, and strength, green soothes and calms, and red is the color of love and romance. But Elliot and his colleagues were trying to figure out whether color can actually change a person’s appeal.
Across five experiments, the results were always the same. The male undergrads who rated the photo bordered in red, found the woman more attractive, were more interested in asking her on a date, and willing to spend more money during the date. The researchers were also careful to show that the effect was specifically tied to sexual interest. They showed, for example, that when heterosexual women rated the attractiveness of the same female stranger, they weren’t swayed by the border’s color. In addition, men didn’t believe the red-bordered woman was more likable, kind, or intelligent—only that she was more attractive and sexually appealing.
Continue reading the rest of the story on Slate