Would I Lie to You? Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating

By: Kathy Makiver

Do you believe how people present themselves in the online dating world or do you doubt that they are being truthful?

The dating scene has changed significantly in the past few years with a dramatic shift in the perception of online dating.  It is now more acceptable to meet a partner online and most of us even know someone who is in a successful relationship as a result of online dating.  However, deceptive behavior is becoming more common online since information can easily be changed and manipulated in the digital world. Online dating profiles usually contain photographs and text designed to emphasize personal data, including physical description, interests, and preferences. We have the freedom to represent ourselves on the internet in a way that we wish to be seen. Many people feel pressure to alter their profile and picture(s) to present what they perceive to be their ideal self in order to increase their attractiveness and marketability.

An article called Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating suggests that many online daters resort to lying about themselves online.  According to research by authors Lo, Hsieh and Chiu, physical attractiveness is the most prominent variable in attracting others.  Online daters usually pursue others who are attractive because they are thought to have better social skills, more confidence, and appear to be more trustworthy and kind.  Since appearance influences behavior in online interactions, they want to become acquainted with attractive people because it stimulates their positive emotions. The halo effect is an important concept in forming attitudes about others.  It is the tendency to use a characteristic (such as attractiveness) to determine certain personality traits (such as outgoing). This happens unconsciously and we are unaware of the bias we develop simply based on a person’s looks.

Physical interaction is absent online so users usually review a photograph and make an assumption in .05 seconds of the person they are viewing.  86% of people feel that photos are misrepresented and once they suspect that a picture is not authentic, they may not believe the text based profile.  Attractive daters are the first to be contacted and to establish a social bond so some people use deception on their profiles to make a good impression on them.  One of the experiments in the study focused on the behavior and perception of participants whose age ranged from 20-26 years old. They were asked to actively send personal information to a specific person (with either low or high physical attractiveness) to ask for a date. The results showed that when online daters met physically attractive daters of the opposite sex, the user’s self-presentation deception level was much higher than when meeting a person with low physical attractiveness.

In many ways, online dating is similar to online marketing especially with respect to the human to human interaction. There are many factors that influence behavior including cultural and social factors. People need a sense of belonging and social interaction so they are motivated by this.  Online dating sites are marketing the pursuit of a perfect match through unique personality and character tests which intrigue people. There is a need to promote a brand, which is self-promotion in terms of a profile and photograph.  Creative marketing techniques are needed to promote yourself.  A target market needs to be determined so you are not focusing on everyone online. Next, you need to make sure that you are marketing yourself on the right platform, using the right tools and strategies to reach your audience.  You can specify your demographics and preferences in order to filter the data. Finally, you should market a short, authentic message with selective wording.  These techniques will help you to meet your expectations and goals in the online dating world.


Chiu, Y., Hsieh, A. Lo, S. (2013). Contradictory Behavior in Online Dating. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1755-1762.

D’Costa, Krystal. “Catfishing: The Truth about Deception Online.” Scientific American Blog Network. Nature America, 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

Hodge, Greg. “The Ugly Truth of Online Dating: Top 10 Lies Told by Internet Daters.” The HuffingtonPost. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

32 thoughts on “Would I Lie to You? Contradictory Deceptive Behavior in Online Dating

  1. Aishwarya Gunti April 25, 2016 / 4:36 pm

    I have read an article about consumer behavior which says that people generally tend to mimic others to fit into the default choices of society. If, they cannot make it they tend to fake it. The severity can go to any extent. To go off with that there is survey which says no one is ever true completely on online and there is evidence that they try to do the same in reality too. Contradictory to this, there is a TED talk which says quite the opposite, ‘fake it till you make it’. But the speaker meant in a very serious tone for people with low esteem and were trying hard to overcome their complexities.
    Here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nOfu3MlsIg


    • Ashley W. April 28, 2016 / 2:00 pm

      I agree very much with the notion that Aish pointed out that people will try and fit in to what they think everyone else is doing. They have no incentive to be themselves, because all people post online are the best parts of themselves, or things that they think people will like or respond to. Especially online where you can take the time to strategically plan your profile and what you post, people can browse other profiles or look for just the right content that would fit before posting, even if it doesn’t reflect them as a person. Especially in an online dating world, people will often distort the truth and sometimes downright lie in order to get the attention they are looking for.


      • Joe Lamagna May 6, 2016 / 12:17 am

        I agree there is not much incentive to be yourself online. It is so easy to stretch the truth and I feel it is also human nature to try and hide your insecurities and want to fit it and the internet provides an easy way to do that.


  2. Meghan Gulbrandsen April 25, 2016 / 8:58 pm

    I personally think that the online dating scene can be tricky. Most people will only put up those perfect pictures of themselves with the right lighting and filter, but I don’t think you actually can get to know someone until you actually see them face to face and get to know them. I think these sites can lead to first and second dates which is great, but at the end of the day it doesn’t come down to the person’s profile and what they have up about them on their page, but how they are in real life and in person. This is why a lot of people have negative things to say about these sites, because when they meet the person they are not what they thought or expected, but that’s not anyone’s fault.


  3. Julie Wusenich April 26, 2016 / 1:24 pm

    Great presentation and post, Kathy! I know people that have had both success and nightmares with online dating. Some are actually truthful and others stretch the truth and the person they go to meet is not what they were expecting. I think people are trying to be what they think others want them to be and not who they truly are – being deceptive will catch up to you.


    • Jane Walsh May 12, 2016 / 9:41 pm

      Julie makes a good point. Some people are so caught up in who they thing they’re supposed to be when they’re online dating that they completely ignore who they are. There is also a group of people that don’t take online dating seriously at all, and treat it like more of a game. This is unfair for those that are looking for something serious.


  4. cbernard7778 April 26, 2016 / 6:02 pm

    Online dating is a constant topic of discussion in today’s society. I feel as though the only successful cases of online dating come from the people that are truly honest on profiles. I agree with Meghan that a lot of times these sites can lead to second or third dates, but in the end don’t work out due to not being the person shared online. It’s important for people to realize that online dating between two people can only work if there is honesty. In today’s society, millions of people portray themselves on social media the way they want to be, not who they really are. There are even popular TV shows and case studies about this phenomena such as MTV’s Catfish. Online dating can really only be successful if all people involved are honest and true to themselves.


    • ssceery May 8, 2016 / 2:35 pm

      It’s interesting to think about how online dating has advanced in both a positive and negative light. In one sense, it’s popularity has created many successful relationships and on another, it has created this online scary deception (like in the case of Catfish). Just as you have the ability to create your own “brand” professionally and personally, individuals control their own dating “brand” and that’s a risk.


  5. Nichole Urbanski April 26, 2016 / 8:12 pm

    The online dating scene has continued to develop throughout the past years. In fact, it is definitely more common than not to hear of people who met online before actually meeting face to face. Of course not all everyone that you meet online is going to look the same way that they look in person but at the same time, not everyone is going to be deceptive. It is important that when taking part in online dating to think about the bigger picture. Check and see if you have mutual friends or how old the picture is that they have posted online. Now a days with the technology that we have, you can connect a picture to someones profile. This will allow you to determine if the picture that someone posted matches the profile of the person that you thought you were talking to. They do this on the MTV show Catfish. Another thing to think about is different clues to take that may seem sketchy. Something that they always ask the people on Catfish is if they have used Facetime or Skype with the person that they have been talking to. Most of the time they respond that they have not. When asked why they usually say that the other person either couldn’t Skype or didn’t want to. To me, this is somewhat a red flag because then you start to think well why can’t they Skype? While online dating will only continue to grow it is important to think about the reality of online dating.


  6. Andie-Jane Phinney April 26, 2016 / 9:11 pm

    Online dating is something that can be so tricky. I feel as if the majority of people, post fake and untruthful things about themselves, to make them sound “better, or hotter.” There are for sure, some people who do go online dating and post everything truthful about themselves in hopes to find a match up based on similar interests and hobbies.These people are trying to look for someone to date and potentially settle down with and are being truthful, but that is not the case for everybody. People enjoy talking to others,but that does not mean they do not lie about who they are and what they are trying to accomplish. We see this many times on the show Catfish that is on MTV. Many of people pretend to be someone they are not, and when it comes down to meeting with them in person, or video chatting, they can not seem to step up to the plate and show their true self. Catfish is a show about getting down to the bottom of who is on the other side of the computer. This “catfish” topic has been very popular for some years now, as just many people are not truthful about themselves. I think when signing up for an online dating site, you must sign up with a realistic mind that someone could be cat fishing you, and you might be let down. Though there are many sites that people have found their perfect match, the majority of people I believe are not being truthful, and is something to just be careful of.


  7. Hechuan Lou April 26, 2016 / 9:45 pm

    Online dating is very interesting. It’s not only about dating, it’s also about ” online”. Online world is a virtual world, people cannot easily tell who they are behind the mask they shown to others, and people start to know each other quick only after a few messages. Without knowing too much information, it will be very difficult to find out the truth. I think people can think online dating as an entertainment way to know people and possibly to find some people maybe match to you, but don’t think of it as a serious way to find your prince charming. Dating companies probably more helpful in this situation.


  8. Colleen Flynn April 27, 2016 / 1:44 am

    Anything on the internet these days is sometimes tricky to determine what is 100% truthful and what is not, especially in the dating world. I am not surprised at all by the study that found that more physically attractive viewers online were the first to be contacted. Online dating is basically marketing yourself how you represent yourself. That may or may not always be the 100% truth. It definitely gets me thinking about what marketing show as 100% truthful as well. They want to show an image of a product that is physically attractive and catches the customers’ eye, just like a person looking for a significant other on online dating sites. The profile picture and the visual is usually the first determining factor if someone is going to reach out to another in online dating, just like in the business world. Whether our society really fully understands it or not, we are very visually based. It is true what they say when we “fall in love at first ‘sight'”!


  9. Olivia Sullivan April 27, 2016 / 3:19 pm

    Online dating can be hard because you are behind a computer screen. You can say anything you want and make up who you want to be. A lot of the time people are not who they say they are, or look exactly like their pictures because of all the filters and effects they can add. The study finding that more physically attractive viewers online were the first to be contacted did not surprise me. There is an MTV television series based on people who are not who they say they are and their main reason is because they have insecurities. These people pick an attractive person to present themselves as because they can, because they are behind a computer screen. With that being said, it is hard to tell whether you are getting a good quality product that is being marketed online. It could be presented in a better way than it actually is.


  10. reganka April 27, 2016 / 7:36 pm

    Although there are some success stories with online dating, it is not something that I personally participate in. I think a big reason why is because of this idea of dishonesty. It is so easy for people to lie about who they are whether it is through pictures or verbal descriptions of themselves. I think that the only way that users can make online dating worth their time is pure honesty on both ends. If both people are being truthful then there are no surprises and no one is wasting their time.


  11. Stephanie Barbagallo April 27, 2016 / 7:56 pm

    In today’s society, online dating is becoming more and more common. It is more common to hear that people met online than it is for people who actually met face to face. Someone lying about who they are is often associated with the idea of online dating. People can easily fabricate who they are online. They can make themselves appear differently by altering their photos, they can use old photos, and they can say whatever they want to say about themselves, even if it is not true. When people meet who they were talking to online with in person, they could be completely different and not at all what they were expecting. I feel as if this happens a lot because many people are not honest in online relationships, but the only way for online relationships to work is being honest from the beginning about who you are.


  12. Marisa Harrington May 1, 2016 / 8:56 pm

    I think that online dating is easier in many ways in order to find a significant other. Many people have fake profiles just to make themselves more attractive, and some profiles actually are real. Like the TV show “Catfish”, many pf those people have a bad background of family history or something wrong in their life. They create a fake profile to make themselves feel better, or have someone to talk to. Only a few cases have they actually been real. I don’t trust online dating.


  13. Joseph Sanfilippo May 2, 2016 / 9:27 pm

    I definitely agree with Meghan that online dating is very tricky. More and more we are seeing people lying about who they are on the internet, and there are even multiple shows such as Catfish on MTV where they expose people for lying about who they say they are online. I understand that some people aren’t confident with who they are, but I see using someone else’s pictures as a form of fraud, which is a crime. For those who are actually who they say they are, then online dating is great, especially for those people who have social anxiety. Many people feel more comfortable talking behind a phone than face to face, so you can see their real personality over the phone. I think that people really need to be careful with online dating, and try not to get too serious with someone until you see them face to face.


  14. adeangelo13 May 2, 2016 / 11:16 pm

    Online dating can be extremely tricky because people can definintely lie about who they are on the internet. Many people feel much more comfortable texting someone rather than talking face to face so it is important that you really get to know the person before you find yourself in a bad or unsafe situation.


  15. cimminoc May 4, 2016 / 3:11 am

    I think masters of online dating are also masters of online marketing. Online dating is about knowing who you are looking for (target market), and understanding what they may want to see or read. Creativity is a huge part of online dating. Much like an online ad, an individual must be able to represent themselves in the most interesting way possible to get noticed. Unlike face to face interaction, a person can put up only what she wants people to see. Online dangers are establishing a personal brand.


  16. Tyler Finigan May 5, 2016 / 11:50 pm

    Great presentation and very interesting topic, Kathy. Online dating can be so beneficial and yet so harmful. With all of the awareness deception has been getting, especially through the MTV show Catfish, you would think that online dating sites would figure out an almost fool-proof system to combat it. It’s disappointing because there are so many people who use these sites and apps for the reasons they were intended to be used. It’s just one of those things where people just have to take the good with bad, which is pretty much the nature of dating in itself.


    • Kathy Makiver May 8, 2016 / 11:49 pm

      Tyler, I agree that marketers of Online Dating should have something in place to trace deception. It is frightening to think that our world has evolved to this and anyone can assume someone else’s identity online. It is food for thought and makes the whole idea negative for me. Once again, technology is taking over our traditions and is changing the way we do basic things whether we like it or not.


  17. Megan Lac May 6, 2016 / 3:55 pm

    I think the concept of online dating website and applications are helpful because you can meet people that live in other towns easier than before. You can meet people that possibly live an hour away from you while before it would probably have to be through a mutual friend. However, its unfortunate that people feel the need to lie about themselves on their profiles. Lying about yourself might result in “matches” that won’t work out well beach you weren’t up front about who you are. On the other hand you might miss successful matches because they’re looking for something you lied about.


  18. CJ Enos May 6, 2016 / 9:02 pm

    Online Dating can be a very good tool if your serious about meeting someone who is compatible and using a respected site. I feel there are other sites that are used as “meat markets” and lend people to lie about who they are and how they look. Unfortunately most of this stems from the ideal thought of what is attractive and how people should look in order to be attractive to others. Personally I have never used a dating site and I don’t know of anyone that has, however I have heard of people having great success with them. It would be nice if the dating sites had a way to check the authenticity of the people who were joining to ensure the consumer is embarking in a conversation with someone who is really who they say they are.


    • Sam Walsh May 7, 2016 / 11:53 pm

      I’ve wondered what the response is when someone finds out their online match ends up being different than what they are in reality. Do they immediately cut them loose? Give them a chance to explain? It would be beneficial if the sites had a way of verifying the person joining, but I wonder if the person would still join if they knew they would have to be verified first. I think one of the main reasons people join these sties is to be someone who they actually are not. It’s sad that people feel the need to lie about who they are, or what they look in order to match with people on an online dating site.


  19. Derek Lawton May 7, 2016 / 12:13 am

    I agree people lie way too much on online dating. I think the more truthful you are the more likely you will find a better match. Online dating can be a great thing but you just need to be careful with who you match with.


  20. Maria May 7, 2016 / 3:04 pm

    I actually met my first boyfriend online 8 years ago, we are still together today! The only difference is, we met through a mutual friend so it wasn’t as scary as going in blind as you would when meeting someone from an online dating website.

    I never had an online dating account so I would not know what the experience is like, however, looking at it from a psychological perspective (since that is my background) it seems like people are able to create a different persona of themselves that is different from their true self, like you have mentioned. If someone was overweight and shy, they may create a skinny and outgoing version of themselves online, and so on in order to create “their positive emotions” as you have written. Many people may see it as an opportunity to recreate themselves, leaving out characteristics they don’t like about their body or personality and including characteristics they wish they had.

    I liked how you compared online dating and marketing, I also think they are similar to one another. When you market a product, you are trying to promote and advertise the good features of the product to attract customers, the same can be applied to online dating as people advertise traits others may find attractive while leaving those that may not be so attractive. So, in reality, is it deceptive to leave some things out in order to appeal attractive to others?

    Has anyone seen the show Catfish? It is on the topic of online dating and how people deceive others by being someone they are not.


  21. Jing Wang May 8, 2016 / 10:41 pm

    I like this article, because I notice this psychology for a long time. when I post something on the social media, I prefer to post something positive but I do not want to show the negitive emotion on the social media, so I think this is same thought with the online dating. So I think it is a good way for compare with the marketing with the psychology aspect to explain the costoemr behavior.


  22. guskiewiczv May 11, 2016 / 3:26 am

    It is very interesting to me, to think about how online dating has evolved, and how it has also changed the way people interact and choose to meet each other online, it has both positives and negatives to it. In a positive light, its popularity has helped to create successful relationships, and creates accessibility to a number of potential matches. On a negative light it has created deception and led to many unsuccessful attempts to develop relationships. Individuals can create their own persona and be someone else, not staying true to themselves, which can be risky in the dating world. .


  23. Jessica May 12, 2016 / 7:19 pm

    This was a great presentation! I think online dating has become more about portraying yourself to what you think others want. in today’s culture we are so obsessed with knowing and seeing what other are doing, liking, and posting. We become to consumed with wanted to impress others whom are looking at our lives from the outside in. Its creating a false idea of the lives people are living, and a false idea of what people are looking for in each other. It really makes dating a scary thing, because you never really know what your getting yourself into..


  24. Jennifer Buonarosa May 12, 2016 / 8:19 pm

    Great Job Kathy! Very interesting, I have to say that I think that most people tell white lies on their profiles. I have a few friends that have tried a lot of these dating sites and have not been honest when filling out their profiles. Which seem kind of crazy to me, because when you do meet someone I can only assume that the truth is going to come out. I guess the think if they don’t tell the whole truth they will get more prospects. I personally have never tried an online dating site so i am not sure.


  25. Ashley Alves May 12, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    I think that online dating can be tricky. I personally use both Tinder and Bumble, but I would never consider these to be online dating sites, more just something to do when you’re bored – swipe left, swipe right. I have never actually met up with anyone from either of these sites because I do not believe people are actually who they say they are or who they claim to be. However, I think if you use a more respected platform you are more apt to get the real deal and potentially find a match for yourself. I think this is directly related with marketing of products as well. If a company or marketing team uses a less respected platform – the less respect that product and company will receive.


  26. gabriellepecher May 12, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    Kathy I really enjoyed your presentation! I thought this was such a great idea to tie into with consumer behavior – one I definitely would not have thought of myself! It’s so interesting to think of online deception used by both males and females as being similar to deception that marketers use every day. Just like products, people who choose to date online are essentially trying to market themselves and “sell” who they are to appeal to others. It is crazy how far some people will go – such as in the cases of cat fishing. As you mentioned during your presentation, the internet makes it so easy to deceive people today, especially with their pictures given photoshop. I have not personally used any online dating sites or apps before, but know people who have used them and have horror stories as a result of deception.


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