How to Spot a Lie in an Online Dating Profile

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Science knows how to identify a liar (big hint: someone who keeps harping on his or her own honesty). So it makes sense, in our online-dating-filled modern lifestyle, that science would also figure out how to identify an online dater who is not being completely above board. There are, in fact, some similarities between those who lie online and IRL -- but there are differences, too. University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Catalina Toma and Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell University scanned profiles from 78 online daters at four matchmaking websites, comparing the information and photos online to the daters' actual stats. Here's what they found:

  • More deceptive daters were less likely to refer to themselves as "I." This is a distancing technique that holds true in real life as well.
  • Liars kept things brief, presumably to keep themselves from getting caught. 
  • Liars use "negation" which means that instead of saying they're "happy," they say they're "not sad," and the like.
  • Liars who lied about details like their age or weight used photos that upheld their lie ... and generally didn't focus on their lies in their written descriptions.
  • The most common lie was about weight (women were off by 8.5 pounds while men by took off 1.5 pounds).
  • Half of people lied about height.
  • 20 percent lied about their age. 

Fascinatingly, “the more deceptive the self-description, the fewer times you see ‘I,’ the more negation, the fewer words total — using those indicators, we were able to correctly identify the liars about 65 percent of the time,” Toma says.

Keep in mind, this is a small sample size, though a lie-detection success rate of almost two-thirds is greater than that of the "untrained eye." Also keep in mind that nearly everybody lies, a little bit: About 80 percent of the daters lied to some extent, even if the lies were of a small magnitude. As for how online daters' lying techniques measure up to the the methods behind fake product reviews, we have to say: Never trust too many exclamation points, no matter where they fall. 

Recommended Reading

As of yet there's no software to detect such lies, but would we really want there to be? After all, half the fun of online dating is nosing out the truth yourself, and then telling everyone you know about it.  

For more on all this, check out OkTrend's post, "The Biggest Lies in Online Dating," which includes further learning like, "the more attractive the picture, the more likely it is to be out of date," most people lie about being bisexual, and, money-wise, people make 20 percent less than they say they do.

Two great takeaways here: If something seems too good to be true it probably is. And if you're going to lie on your online dating profile, go big or stay home. 

Image via Shutterstock by Andresr

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.