You would think, wouldn’t you, that having a lot of self-confidence would help your chances of success in online dating. And you’d be right! Mostly. But there happens to be one very specific group that has no business being overly self-confident in online dating, as it appears to harm them rather than help: college-age guys. The more confident these young men are, the less success they see on the online dating site OKCupid, according to research led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Emily Yeh, who presented her findings recently at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual meeting in San Diego.
To be fair to these guys, overconfidence is not strictly a young-male thing. The scientific literature on overconfidence is filled with all of the varied and often hilarious ways people believe themselves to be better than average, a phenomenon known as illusory superiority. (It’s also sometimes called the Lake Wobegon effect, after the fictional town in A Prairie Home Companion.) Research has shown, for example, that people tend to believe their IQ is higher than average, or that they’re a better driver than average. And OKCupid’s data bears this out, too. The site asks its users to rate themselves on a variety of things, including intelligence, height, and morality. Just like in the psychology studies on illusory superiority, OKCupid users tend to rate themselves as being smarter and more moral than the average user of the site. Also, according to Yeh’s analysis of the data, it is highly likely that people lie about how tall they are. “They tend to say they are two inches taller than they probably are in real life,” something that became clear when Yeh compared the site’s data to national surveys.
But, you know, of course people lie on dating sites. They’re trying to get a date! So Yeh was curious to take this a step further: How does overconfidence translate to actual success on OKCupid? Among those survey questions I mentioned earlier is one that asks outright about the user’s level of self-confidence. So Yeh decided to compare that against the person’s subsequent “success” on the site, which she defined as things like first contacts (as in, you reached out to someone on the site, or the other person reached out to you) and long conversations (a chat that goes back and forth at least four times qualifies). To keep it simple, she decided to focus on two age groups: the youngest users on the site (ages 18 to 22) and those on the older end (age 45 to 55).
Not surprisingly, higher self-reported self-confidence correlated with initiating more conversations, a finding that was consistent across genders and age groups. As for receiving messages from other users, having high self-confidence here helped the older group, and it helped the younger women, too. But that didn’t hold true for the younger men; on the contrary, “the more modest the male is, the more messages they receive,” Yeh said. Similarly, the young men who said in the initial survey that they had less self-confidence were also less likely to turn that first message into a long conversation. And yet for the older users, “the more confident you are, the more messages you get,” Yeh added.
There are plenty of potential explanations for these findings. “It could mean, perhaps as you get older, you start to have more concrete measures of how confident you are,” Yeh said. You can back up that confidence with actual achievements, in other words; the young folk in her data set were confident, but chances are they hadn’t really done much yet. For college-age men, at least, the message from Yeh’s research seems clear: Cool it on the overconfidence, okay?