Last month, Will_Newsome started a thread about OKCupid, one of the major players among online dating sites--especially for the young-and-nerdy set, given their mathematical approach to matching. He opened it up for individual profile evaluation, which occurred, but so did a lot of fruitful meta-discussion about attraction in general and online dating mechanisms in particular. This post is a summary of the parts of that thread which specifically address the practical aspect of good profile editing and critique. (It also incorporates some ideas I had previously but hadn't collected yet.) A little of it is specific to OKCupid, but most of it can be applied to any dating site, and some to dating in general. I've cited points which came from single comments (i.e. not suggested by several people); if I missed one of yours, please comment with a link and I'll add the reference.

On OKTrends

"Wait a minute," I hear experienced OKCers cry. "Why reinvent the wheel of profile analysis? OKCupid already has a blog for just that, and it's called OKTrends."

OKTrends has its merits, but it also has one major flaw. Wei_Dai summed it up well by observing that OKTrends does not make "any effort to distinguish between correlation and causation," citing this post as an example. The reason for that is obvious: the first purpose of OKTrends is to bring traffic to OKCupid. It does this with entertaining content about racy subjects, and rigorous analysis comes (optimistically) second. Of course, datadataeverywhere added, that's exactly the Mythbusters formula. They're both junk food science, but it's also the only look at their data we're going to get, so I'll link a few relevant OKTrends posts in the appropriate sections.

How to Write a Good Profile

Okay, you've created your account and answered a few questions. Now it's time to summarize your whole personality, your appeal, and your worldview in ten little text boxes. Where to begin?

The obvious answer is to reply to the ten profile prompts with your answers to them. Don't fall for it! What you write in your profile, along with your picture, will be the whole sense of yourself you convey to other people. Do your favorite media selections and the fact that you need oxygen, water, food, shelter, and two other obvious things to live constitute 20% of your identity?

Concrete Advice #1: Don't just follow the prompts. Think about what you want to say in your profile, and then fit that into the answers.

Or don't even find a way to fit it into the answers. I've seen excellent profiles which literally ignored the questions and just said what they had to say. But fear not, I won't leave you entirely promptless. There are two goals in writing a good profile:

  • Honesty (so as to find people who will actually like you)
  • Attractiveness (so that they will realize, upon reading your profile, that they might like you)

We'll address these one at a time, beginning with honesty.

There's a distinction in anthropology between "ancestral traits," whose genes go back so far that they are common among a huge variety of species, and "derived traits," which evolved recently enough to be an informative descriptor of a group. Pentadactyly is an ancestral trait, and is not specific enough to tell a human from a newt; opposable thumbs are a derived trait, and indicate that you're probably (although not necessarily) looking at a primate. You can speak similarly of traits which are memetic rather than genetic; ancestral traits are shared by almost everyone in the culture, and derived traits by smaller subgroups.

Ancestral: "I like listening to music and hanging out with my friends."

Derived: "I like taking photographs and playing board games."

Concrete Advice #2: Write about your derived traits, not your ancestral ones.

Notice that it's not about specificity. The second set of interests isn't very much more specific than the first one. They're just less common interests. Therefore, they do a better job of identifying where you fit in personspace, and in fewer words. For the convenience of newcomers to online dating, here's a quick laundry list of cliches which are so common as to tell the reader nothing about you:

Concrete Advice #3: Omit all of these: "it's hard to summarize myself" "what should I say here" "I'm contradictory" "I'm nice" "I'm shy until you get to know me" "the first thing people notice is my eyes" "I need [obvious literal things] to live" "if it were private I wouldn't write it here" "you can ask me anything" and explicit suggestions that the reader should date you, even tongue-in-cheek

That said, it is hard to summarize yourself. It's hard to recognize the parts of yourself which matter, and even harder to remember them later when you're staring at a form on a webpage. Furthermore, self-identity is susceptible to environmental pressure, and it's easy to just write up the stereotype of the group you feel you belong to. If you'll pardon me quoting myself:

The first few versions of my profile were geared to show off how geeky and smart I was. This connected me to people who spent a lot of time playing tabletop roleplaying games, reading fantasy novels, and making pop culture references to approved geeky television shows, none of which are things which interest me particularly.

Eventually I realized that I am not actually just popped out of the stereotypical modern geek mold, and it was lazy, inaccurate, and ineffective to act like I was. Since then I've started doing the much harder thing of trying to pin down my specific traits and tastes, instead of taking the party line or applying a genre label that lets people assume the details. In that way, OKC has actually been a big force in driving me to understand who I am, what I want, and what really matters to me.

Concrete Advice #4: Learn what you actually care about. Get into the habit of noticing things in your day-to-day life which excite you, please you, infuriate you, or make you think. That's what belongs in an honest description of you.

That's tough, but it's easier than it sounds. Remember that the reason you're being honest is that you want to attract someone who will actually like you, not just the person you claim to be. Don't worry at this stage about appearing "interesting" enough, or whether the generic average airhead represented by OKTrends would like you. Interpolate put it perfectly:

No one you want to meet would find you boring.

Keep that in mind when you're wondering how to balance the honesty and attractiveness goals. Yvain wondered why some users openly express non-mainstream views about transhumanism in a dating profile; this may be honest, but to a lot of people it won't be attractive. Apprentice was surprised by the number of LWers who talked about outdoorsy interests, which can intimidate geeky homebody types. In both cases, whether the interest warrants a mention depends on how significant that interest is to your personality and lifestyle.

Concrete Advice #5: The more you mention something, the more important it will seem to be to you.

rhollerith_dot_com came at the same point from a different angle, with the specific advice not to go into too much detail about work. What field you're in is interesting; what project has been taking up your work hours lately probably isn't. Unless your job is particularly cool or a big part of your identity, it doesn't deserve more than a sentence or two. The same goes for academic fields and most hobbies. If it would only generate conversation with someone who shares your job, major, or hobby, leave it out (unless those are the only people you're looking for). More generally, keep track of how much you mention a given topic in your profile. Count instances, if you have to. When you sort the list by quantity, what matters most to you should be on top. Right below that on the frequency list ...

Concrete Advice #6: Write about the traits or interests that you want a potential partner to share.

Describing what you want in a partner is about as hard as describing yourself, and for the same reasons, but you can approach it the same way (by paying attention and thinking about it in real-life contexts, not just when working on your profile). There are two reasons to make a point of including those things: It will appeal to people who share those traits with you, which is by definition your target audience; and OKCupid connects people in part based on shared interests listed in their profiles, even the ones that the user didn't choose to highlight. More to the point, the adorable but nonsentient cartoon matching robot does that. Which means:

Concrete Advice #7: Do not mention your dislikes in your profile unless they are otherwise important.

As far as I can tell, once OKC has decided you like something, there's no way to explicitly tell it you don't. Even removing it from your profile doesn't kick in immediately. If someone searches for, say, "scientology," and you put in your profile that "scientology is crap," you will come up on the search. This is not what either of you is trying to accomplish. Besides, that doesn't describe you. If you're an active organizer of major scientology protests and are looking for someone to do that with you, okay, put it in. Short of that, don't give yourself keywords you don't want.

One last thing about searchability before we move on.

Concrete Advice #8: Fill out any applicable sidebar information.

Alicorn's example was religion: If you like the idea of being found by an atheist looking for another atheist, make sure OKCupid knows that you are one. I would go a step further and recommend filling in as much as you can. Single completed fields, or single omitted fields, will look more significant than they probably are--but do leave out any where all possible responses would be misleading. (I've left the "children" field blank, for example, because I don't want them now but might some day, so neither "wants" nor "doesn't want" is correct.) If you want to expound on any of your answers, of course, you can do it in the profile body, as long as it maintains an acceptable importance/frequency ratio and doesn't make your profile unreadably long.

Concrete Advice #9: Write between 50 and 350 words in most of the fields.

I got these numbers by measuring answers which make my eyes glaze over (on the long end) or which made me think "that's it?" (on the short end). This isn't a hard-and-fast rule. The self-summary is justified in being a little bit longer; the six things are justified in being shorter. Your favorites section should be one of your shorter answers, unless media and food happen to be really important to you (in which case, write about why, don't just list them).

Last but not least, here is the most-discussed and hopefully most obvious thing you can do to improve your profile.

Concrete Advice #10: Upload at least one clear, flattering, decent resolution photo of yourself. No excuses.

I'm just going to hand it over to mattnewport for a sec, responding to comments about not being "photogenic."

... the word 'photogenic' should be like a red flag to a rationalist bull ... people who are 'not photogenic' are not made of some different type of material that reacts differently to light than photogenic people.

He goes on to point out that OKTrends did not one but two posts on what makes a good (read: message-attracting) profile picture. The first one is about content (poses, props, situations), and the second one is mostly about camera choice and timing. If you can read those and then turn around and take a good photo of yourself, great. If not, and especially if you're frustrated by the task, enlist the help of an actual photographer. You may know one. One of your friends may know one. A local skilled amateur may be willing to trade prints for practice. Whoever they are, find them. If you claim to be trying to prepare a good profile, and you don't have a picture on it that you're proud of, you're fooling yourself. (Hypocrisy alert: I haven't yet done this. But I just talked myself into it, so I will.)

Yvain defends, quite fairly, that all of his photos are of him out doing interesting things which don't lend themselves to clean sparkling images: backpacking, scuba diving, and so forth. He's right to want to keep those to show off his activities; however, four different people commented that his pictures could be improved. I think it's clear that he would be well-served by adding one more, whose sole purpose is to flatter him physically.

How to Make It a Better Profile

Congratulations! You've written a competent profile. But the only person who's seen it yet is the least objective person in the world with regard to your attractiveness. Time to get a second opinion. The purpose of the profile critique is to verify that you've met your two goals in profile writing: honesty (have you actually depicted your personality?) and attractiveness (does the profile encourage messages?).

The best people to judge your profile's honesty are those who know you well. They're the only ones who can tell whether the words you chose give an impression of you which matches the impression you give in reality. Unfortunately, this means they also have preconceptions about you. Better would be a critique from someone who formed their in-person impression only after reading your profile, but if your profile is working that well it's probably fine. In any case, ask your honesty evaluators if there's anything in your profile which surprises them, or anything they're surprised you omitted.

There are two schools of thought on whom you should ask to judge your profile's attractiveness. One is to ask the sort of person you're trying to attract: members of your preferred gender, and probably of your own culture. They can tell you whether your profile is attractive to them and whether they'd message you based on it ... or at least, whether they think they would. The other school of thought is that the right people to ask are those who share your gender/culture preference, and have been successful attracting such partners. They can tell you what has empirically worked for them and compare notes. Both have potential biases, but anything both types of critic agree on is probably correct. (I didn't see any gay users pipe up in this part of the conversation, but I'd love to know how the overlap between the two sets affects their feedback.)

Of course, a once-over by a relative stranger (e.g. another LWer) can be useful as well. They can tell you what assumptions they make about you, knowing little more than what you've chosen to write. Have your critic read the profile line by line and write down their impressions as they have them; when they finish, they can add the overall gist they got from reading. The idea is to give you a fuller picture of the reader's immediate responses--ideas which could stick in the subconscious even if they're forgotten consciously by the end. These are the details that they're filling in between the lines, and that's what you want to be sure is accurate. In particular, this is good for ensuring that your frequency of mentions actually matches your degree of interest; whpearson noticed such a discrepancy in mine, which I corrected.

It should go without saying that any profile editor should also be encouraged to report problems with the language or flow. Get rid of typos, clean up the grammar. Check for subtler things as well, like unusual words repeated close together, or using the same sentence structure over and over. If a joke isn't funny or a reference doesn't make sense, replace or omit it. All of these errors are distractions from what you're trying to communicate, and produce fleeting impressions of confusion or irritation which are then associated with your profile. Other than that, write in a style which is natural to you. That style is a fair part of your self-description.

Finally, review your profile from time to time. Every few months is a good minimum, give or take any life-altering events. The purpose of this is to ensure that your profile changes as you change, to stay up-to-date on the honesty goal. For the same reason, cycle in a new picture periodically, especially when your appearance has changed. If you really want to be thorough, re-answer old match questions from time to time as well. They're the biggest part of how OKCupid connects you to other people, and updating them keeps it current on your tastes and values. That this requires continuing to think about and adjust your tastes and values as time passes is just a perk.

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I have no problem with Relsqui presenting this sort of advice, but I think (a) such advice requires more acknowledgment of how limited it is in scope, and (b) some of it is wrong. I think attempting to synthesize LW thoughts on online dating is an interesting subject, but drawing prescriptions from this synthesis, along with certain other assumptions, runs into the problems that pwno and Vladimi_M observe.

Since Relsqui is being such a good sport about receiving criticism, and Vladimir_M is being shy on certain subjects, I'm going to break it down myself.

This post is a summary of the parts of that thread which specifically address the practical aspect of good profile editing and critique.

What reasons do we have to believe that the aggregated LW on online dating is any use? Unless we have reasons to believe that it is useful, this aggregation is more interesting as a descriptive anthropological project ("Ooh, lookie at what the cute LWers think about online dating!") than as a normative one. This post presents the aggregated advice as prescriptive without adequate caveat emptors.

Concrete Advice #1 is good except for this part:

Honesty (so as to find people who will ac

... (read more)

What reasons do we have to believe that the aggregated LW on online dating is any use?

Very little. In general dating advice serves a purpose other than providing information on how best to go about dating.(along the lines of Hanson's homo hypocritus). This does not seem to be a bias that lesswrong is particularly good at overcoming.

On the positive side if anyone recommends anything particularly self destructive we can rely on HughRistik to correct it.

A lot of the comments here (particularly among those that do not include the word 'should') are good. Unfortunately it is difficult to know which advice is good and which is bad unless you already know what you are doing. There are other environments that are set up specifically for this kind of subject where there are mechanisms in place to ensure the 'sanity waterline' is high.

Unless we have reasons to believe that it is useful, this aggregation is more interesting as a descriptive anthropological project ("Ooh, lookie at what the cute LWers think about online dating!") than as a normative one. This post presents the aggregated advice as prescriptive without adequate caveat emptors.

Cute. I love it.

There are other environments that are set up specifically for this kind of subject where there are mechanisms in place to ensure the 'sanity waterline' is high.

One of the best examples is, of course, PUA communities.

On the main forum I used to post on, here are some of the norms:

  • In the Techniques forum, you aren't supposed to post any technique until you've tried it a couple times yourself. Furthermore, you aren't even supposed to ask if something might work, instead you are told "go out and try it, then come tell us if it worked." Even talking about an idea that hasn't been tried can privilege the hypothesis too much. Of course, the fact that you've tried something doesn't prove that it works (maybe something else you were doing caused the result instead), or that it generalizes to other people and situations, but it makes the hypothesis worth talking about.

  • Users are discouraged from posting on subjects they aren't experienced about; doing so is called "Keyboard Jockeying" (aka "KJing"). There is some tolerance for speculation as long as you are clear that you are speculating (some guys will preface ideas with "I'm gonna KJ a little here.

... (read more)
You can tell a lot about someone even based off which lies they choose to tell.
An illustrative anecdote is that "Mystery" admits that he is actually quite bad at attracting "7s". Sure, that's hyperbole for the purpose of showing off, but there is an element of truth behind it. If he wasn't able to take on board knowledge from people other than himself and extracting the general insights then his advice would be quite limited. On the other hand there are people like (so called) David DeAngelo who, well, isn't exactly an outlier on the 'charismatic person' scale and is more of a simple 'educator'. He just teaches the sort of classes on human behavior that would be taught in highschool if school was actually about teaching people useful stuff. He comes complete with a table of books on a variety of subjects that are well reputed in mainstream culture that he holds up, describes and recommends. Handing out assignments wouldn't seem out of place and nor would assigning pracs on 'body language and posture'. Come to think of it he does do both of those things without using those terms. That sort of source (only PUA advice in the broadest possible usage) has a somewhat higher epistemic standard - albeit trading off somewhat on the most specific techniques by playing it safe and keeping it basic.
This is well said. I addressed the balance of honesty and attraction somewhat but clearly not sufficiently, since a couple of people have remarked on it. However, you're the first person to give a clear description of what could be added. I'm mildly daunted by the task of rearranging the post to lengthen that portion of it, what with all the segues, but if I find the (time*priority) for it I'll see what I can do. Ooh, burn. It sounds like how you present yourself, vis a vis nerdiness, and how I do, are actually quite similar--we just came at it from different directions. In both cases, we're downplaying things which would fit us into that mold, because it doesn't suit us.

Concrete advice #2 and #3 seem uncontroversial to me, but I'm not sure how much they actually matter.

Therefore, they do a better job of identifying where you fit in personspace

I've thought of the personspace concept myself, and it's a great line of thought.

4 sounds like good advice, but we quickly get into trouble again and raise some of my same objections (I'm going to be repeating myself a bit from my last post, but that's to figure out good ways to articulate things):

Remember that the reason you're being honest is that you want to attract someone who will actually like you, not just the person you claim to be. Don't worry at this stage about appearing "interesting" enough, or whether the generic average airhead represented by OKTrends would like you.

First, I want to acknowledge the accurate part about this advice: your goal is not to attract the average person in your target demographic on an online dating website. It's better to have a small group of people crazy about you, rather than having everyone lukewarm about you... as long as that small group contains enough people you want. Sometimes, it's best to pick out a niche. An important topic is how to narrow ... (read more)

Perhaps I made a mistake in addressing honesty and attractiveness separately, because you're not the first person to assume that my advice about honesty precludes attempting to make your profile seem attractive. As I read it, that quote doesn't mean that no one you want to meet would find your profile boring. That's ridiculous! It means no one you want to meet would find you boring, and I agree with that. It's just a roundabout way of saying "don't try to present yourself as someone other than who you are." I assumed that "show your best side" was understood; clearly it isn't. "If" is the point. I'm optimizing for relationships, not dates. Signalling more social skills than you actually have isn't going to work out in the long run (except insofar as being able to signal competently is much of what they are). I certainly agree with the idea that nerds with no social skills would be well-served to develop those skills. But then the point isn't making them appear more desireable; it's actually making them more desireable, which is beyond the scope of the post.

I'm optimizing for relationships, not dates.

For some people, the main barrier to relationships is trouble getting dates, or trouble doing well on dates. The more dates these people go on, the better they will get at dating, at which point they'll be able to move on to actually attempting relationships.

Signalling more social skills than you actually have isn't going to work out in the long run (except insofar as being able to signal competently is much of what they are).

As you say, being able to signal competently is a big part of social skills.

In my experience in real life, people who try to signal more social skills than they actually have tend to get seen through or make people feel uncomfortable almost immediately, or get believed on a permanent basis. While I think it's possible to hit somewhere in between, where people initially think you're cool and then later decide that you're a loser, doing so is hard, because signaling substantially more social skills than you actually have is hard.

I suspect that most of the time, the amount of social skills that someone can "fake" is about the level of social skills they could attain if they would practice a bit, get som... (read more)


A thousand times yes.

If only the guys who had the fundamentals right (actual brains, competence, kindness, etc.) were better at operating the female hindbrain! Adding social skills to the male population is good for women.

To add my 0.02: from my perspective, a profile that describes technical/scientific interests is not a bad thing. In fact I definitely prefer it. I don't even put that in the "bad social skills" category.

What does seem to make me less likely to communicate with someone: defining yourself by what you're a fan of instead of by what you do, not having a career, too many indications of "softness" in personality, excessive self-deprecation. Even someone who'd be compatible with me on the fundamentals can come across badly.

If only the guys who had the fundamentals right (actual brains, competence, kindness, etc.) were better at operating the female hindbrain! Adding social skills to the male population is good for women.

So, is it your experience that men with the fundamentals right are often lacking at interacting with the female hindbrain? That is consistent with my observations, and I'd be interested to hear you expand on that perception.

Vladimir_M and I ended up concurring in the past that there is excessive polarization between men who appeal to women's hindbrains, and men who have good qualities in other areas (e.g. relating to long-term mate potential). We suggested that the relationship between masculinity/excitement and female attraction is a step function: there's a certain baseline level of those traits required, but adding more of those traits isn't always better.

In your case, your threshold sounds like:

too many indications of "softness" in personality, excessive self-deprecation

Those guys are below your threshold for some dimension (which may be related to masculinity). I would hazard a guess that for you, once it's obvious that a guy isn't too soft, being less soft isn'... (read more)


I think you've basically got it right.

I do have the impression that men who have the fundamentals right aren't good with the female hindbrain, for the most part (there are exceptions, and there are compromises.)

My own perspective: I've had experience with guys who don't have the fundamentals, and that's horrible. Someone without human decency is the worst, but someone who isn't too bright also doesn't make for a great relationship. So that sort of thing is primary. Mandatory. I don't appreciate people who argue that women are somehow not serious when they say that they care about intellectual or moral values. I'm entirely serious.

But, on a totally different metric and with a totally different mechanism, masculinity also matters a lot. (I think this is true of most women, but I might be an outlier in just how much it's true for me.) Masculinity will make a bad match look tempting; the lack of it will make a good match look unappealing. I don't think it's necessarily bad that my hindbrain works like this -- on the off chance that I have "chemistry" with a guy who's also a good match, I'll enjoy the relationship much more than if I were Ms. Spock. It adds another di... (read more)

SarahC said:

I don't appreciate people who argue that women are somehow not serious when they say that they care about intellectual or moral values. I'm entirely serious.

What do you think causes the common perception that women are not serious about caring about intellectual or moral values? Are you saying that it's extremely rare for women to say this unseriously, or that you just don't like being judged as non-serious on such a claim merely because a non-trivial percentage of women may make it incorrectly? What level of variation do you think occurs in the female population in this area.

Us guys, we see women saying that they want guys with intellectual and moral values, but then we often seeing women going for men who seem unlikely to exhibit those traits, and we get... confused. Since this kind of subject isn't politically correct to talk about, when a guy sees something like this happening, it will dominate his thinking and lead to hasty generalizations about what all women want (like your example of "women just want sex with assholes").

What do you think about women who are into Rhett Butler, and other "dark heroes" from romance novels? If that example is... (read more)

I think women want guys with values, in principle, and are tempted by guys without values, in practice, because they like "masculine" or "alpha" behavior. It doesn't mean that the desire to date a good person isn't a real desire. If someone desires to get work done, but also procrastinates, would you say she doesn't "really" want to get work done? I think women would prefer a good person who hits the right masculinity/dominance buttons than a bad person. (Read or watch Gone With The Wind again -- Rhett is actually the male character with the most integrity and smarts.) I think you're entirely right that men who are pretty awful people can be very attractive to women. But I think that's because they have certain social skills that they've developed and relied on. And anyone can learn social skills. There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never hear about women being hot for Jeffrey Dahmer. Rappers swagger, make it obvious that women can't resist them, and they're typically in great shape. They're popular for completely predictable reasons. You're probably right that some women gravitate to assholish men because they're just not thinking (just like some men gravitate to women who have nothing going for them but their beauty.) But it's unfair for a man to assume that every woman is going to do that, and I'd find it sad if a man compromised his more serious principles just to pick up the less self-aware women. You can make yourself more attractive without becoming a person you'd hate.

I think women want guys with values, in principle, and are tempted by guys without values, in practice, because they like "masculine" or "alpha" behavior. It doesn't mean that the desire to date a good person isn't a real desire.

I think this hypothesis makes a lot of sense: masculinity is the main cause of attraction, and bad values just tag on along for the ride. This hypothesis is entirely plausible to me, but I have to wonder whether it's the whole story. For some the nastier forms, I'm not sure that masculinity and bad values are always separable; they are intertwined.

There could be several different paths by which different types of women are attracted to assholes; you've certainly named one of them.

If someone desires to get work done, but also procrastinates, would you say she doesn't "really" want to get work done?

Not necessarily, but it could be the case.

(Read or watch Gone With The Wind again -- Rhett is actually the male character with the most integrity and smarts.)

It's one specific scene that I'm thinking of: the quasi-rape scene.

There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never

... (read more)
I've had some success while dressed as Darth Sideous... but I've got my suspicions that was despite not because. ;) Can you give some examples of the sort of villains you are considering here?
It's very odd that a lot of women find Snape attractive. Where does he fit into the theory?
Masculinity + authority + sarcasm + disagreeableness is an attractive combination for a reasonable subset of women. Alan Rickman's looks and voice may help. See also House, M.D. for another attractive character close by in the same region of guyspace.
I would go with villain-type + played by Alan Rickman in the movies
The thing is, he's a medium-status villain. He's a teacher and not in charge of more than his classroom. He's not good-looking or well-dressed. I believe he was the subject of a lot of fan fiction before the movies came out.
Harry treated him as though he was a major villain though. He and Ron spend pretty much the whole series blaming him every time anything goes wrong. I'm guessing that simultaneously raised his villain-status and his misunderstood-guy-in-need-of-love status.
He is a lot higher status in the movies, purely due to the way he is acted. He exuded power. I'll also note that Snape is in charge of a house and could reasonably be considered the third most powerful in Hogwarts. Given the role Hogwarts has in Magical Britain his status would seem to be rather high.
And he looks and talks like Alan Rickman!
Also, the theory of female attraction to status is not so much about global status, but about local status in interactional contexts. That's part of why members of small-time crappy bands can do so well with women (that, plus good genes from being a musician). Global status in men is great, but local status is good enough, and it's more attainable.
I'll agree here. I didn't like him at all in the books, but after the movies...
Oddly, after reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time, long before any of the movies came out, I too found Snape to be oddly charismatic... sure, he seemed to hate Harry for no apparent reason and go out of his way to be mean to him, but he seemed interesting in a way that many of the other characters weren't. A hero who is consistently heroic is often a Flat Character and therefore boring.
For me, bullies children = utterly revolting. I'm surprised this isn't widely shared, but I seem to be an odd person in many respects.

Your perspective is that of an adult, of course; but the Harry Potter books are children's literature, and thus (I presume) take a child's point of view on the world. Children often perceive adult authority figures as "mean" even when they are well within the bounds of what (adult) society considers to be acceptable behavior. Such "meanness", while unpleasant, is not something children are necessarily shocked by; they expect it in more or less the same way that adults expect "outrageous" actions from the government .

Snape doesn't even beat the children does he? That puts him ahead of what has often been considered acceptable behaviour to direct towards children.
He mentally beats them - between the implied Legilimency and verbal humiliation, I think a lot of his students would have preferred the occasional physical slap or kick.
Is your point that Harry isn't shocked by Snape's behavior, so that a good many readers aren't, either? I don't remember if Harry had a general opinion about Snape's viciousness. The women who find Snape attractive aren't children themselves-- I don't know what the typical lower age limit for liking Snape is. IIRC, Rowling hated the way Snape taught. She could have presented his nastiness as part of a useful toughening process, but she didn't. Of course, as the books went on, not only did he eventually redeem himself, but (earlier) Umbridge made him look like a relatively less awful teacher.
I agree; Snape ought to have been revolting. I don't know why he wasn't.


There's not a one-to-one relationship between horribleness and attractiveness to women -- you never hear about women being hot for Jeffrey Dahmer.

Not a one-to-one relationship, to be sure, but stories like this strongly suggest some positive statistical relation: "No shortage of women who dream of snaring a husband on Death Row: experts ponder why deadliest criminals get so many proposals." The article references an academic book that dedicates a chapter to the phenomenon.

Jeffrey Dahmer might have been a bit too creepy even for the serial killer groupie population, but I wouldn't be surprised if he got an occasional love letter too.

Dammit, V_M, you ninja'd me by posting that article before I could post my analysis.
A lot of parents find it sad when their kids find out that santa claus isn't real.
I think there's a bit more to it than just women overlooking a lack of values because of other attractive factors like confidence. There's some evidence that men with the 'dark triad' personality traits are more successful with women.
mattnewport: Here's the research paper on which the article you link was based:
I had to google him, I also googled his name and sexy and found this. :( He gets 28,800 hits for jeffrey dahmer sexy. Out of 275000 hits. So a sexy ratio of 0.1. I'm not sure if this is high or low for a public male figure, a lot of it will be incidental mentions. Steve Buscemi gets a ratio of 0.03, brad pitt get 0.13. Harold shipman (another serial killer but not so handsome or gruesome) gets 0.06. I'm not sure of my methodology, I suspect that I might do better looking for the phrase in quotes.

I'm not sure of my methodology

Dead elephant gets a ratio of 0.59.

Ah thanks. Quotes it is, although it will under report. "Dead elephant is sexy" gets none, as does Harrold Shipman. Steve buscemi does better this time. 60/935000 = 6*10^-4 Jeffrey Dahmer gets 4/264000 = 1.5*10^-4 Jay Leno gets 112/4.7million = 2*10^-4 Brad pitt gets 14700/17.1 million = 8 * 10^-3 While not falling foul to the dead elephant problem, I'm still not happy with it methodologically. This is probably the best information we can get without searching for all the variants of "X is hot". Hmm, this might make a good small web app, a more advanced version of google fight that looked for relative popularity of adjectives.
Not quite the same, but Googlism is sort of a simple version of that. Also, I suspect a trolling element in the Jeffrey Dahmer page you linked, although that could be optimism at work.
This confuses me, because it seems to imply that men need to believe that a simple personality heuristic can be applied to all or almost all women. Why is it an unacceptable answer that some women like one thing, and some like another? Or did you mean the same group of women in both cases? By "gender dynamics" in this case do you mean doing the things that you're expected to do because of your gender? If so, yeah, some of them are pretty fun. And some of it is stuff we're hardwired to like; I won't argue with that. The trouble is just when we limit ourselves to broad heuristics about the whole population which gloss over the degree of individual variety, and then try to apply those on the individual scale.

This confuses me, because it seems to imply that men need to believe that a simple personality heuristic can be applied to all or almost all women. Why is it an unacceptable answer that some women like one thing, and some like another? Or did you mean the same group of women in both cases?

In other cases, it could be that the most common things women in your culture say they want, and the guys who are getting the most attention, don't seem to match. Of course, there's no necessary contradiction, like you say.

In other cases, it's the same women saying one thing, and (seemingly) doing another.

There is a social desirability bias that will encourage women to signal preferences for positive traits like intelligence and values. In contrast, if you're a woman who likes meatheads, you've less likely to talk about it. Furthermore, when people misstate their preferences, it's more likely to be in the direction of positive traits than of negative traits.

For many white middle-class men, it's drummed into their heads from an early age that women universally prefer intelligent men with values such as "respectfulness." So when a guy sees evidence to the contrary, it makes him question... (read more)

The prevalence of different personality types in the population is very relevant here and you seem to be glossing over it. If the number of women attracted to your personality type is relatively low (and especially if it is low relative to the number of other men similar to you) it will still be an obstacle you need to overcome in finding a partner even if you believe that there are women out there who would be attracted to you. Internet dating has probably helped with this a bit by making it easier to find potential matches but it can't overcome seriously unfavourable relative numbers.

I'd compare this with employment. Every now and then, you see a media story about some company with a highly unusual internal culture that uses all sorts of unconventional practices in hiring, organization, and management. Yet unless you luckily stumble onto some such employer and happen to be an exceptionally good candidate by their standards, you would be well-advised to stick to the standard conventional advice on how to look and behave in job interviews and, subsequently, in the workplace. In fact, doing anything else would mean sabotaging your employment and career prospects, and expecting that your unconventional behavior will surely be rewarded with a dream job with an unconventional employer is a delusional pipe-dream.

The main flaw of this analogy, of course, is that the conventional wisdom on seeking and maintaining employment is largely correct, whereas the conventional wisdom on dating has fatal points of disconnect from reality. Also, while conforming to optimal workplace behavior is truly painful for many people, fixing the problems in one's approach to dating and relationships typically doesn't require any such painful and loathsome adjustment. (Even though people often rationalize their unwillingness to do it by convincing themselves in the opposite.)

You're probably right but ironically I've ignored much of the standard advice on employment and it's worked out just fine for me so this example doesn't resonate very well for me. I've never worn a suit to a job interview for example.
Certainly! If he'd said "women who might like me tend to also like ..." I'd have understood. My confusion was because there was no such qualification, or anything else limiting the population under discussion beyond "women," but the commenter seemed to expect consistency within that population. This is what I thought I was saying. :)
I assumed he was saying something like "the majority of women prefer a man more 'masculine' than the median man". By analogy, if it is true that "the majority of men prefer a woman who is slimmer than the median woman" it should be obvious that being overweight will make it harder for a woman to find a match even if there are men who prefer less slim women. Saying "men prefer slim women" is a slightly sloppy generalization but not an unreasonable one in this example.
We might be looking at different parts of the comment under discussion, because I've completely lost the correlation between what we're talking about and what I actually read. At this point I'd rather just drop it.
Dark heroes in romance novels generally aren't disrespectful or aggressive towards the heroine, and if they are domineering or deceptive towards the heroine, it's generally motivated by something that the hero at least believes is for the heroine's good, and often at the expense of the hero's own interests. For example, if a fantasy-romance novel heroine gets put under a curse that makes her terribly lustful under the full moon, the heroine might lock her up to protect her... even if she secretly wants to have sex with him anyway, and he wants her as well. Or in an adventure-romance where the heroine is a trained assassin with genetic superpowers, the hero might trick her into getting left behind when he goes to kill the bad guy, to protect her... even if his powers aren't as powerful as hers, or he has no powers at all besides his secret agent training. Even if the hero is a bad guy with a past, his actions toward the heroine never turn out to be actually evil or unprincipled, though they may be mistaken and tragic for one or both of them. (To be fair, romance has a lot of subgenres, and my knowledge is limited to skimming the books my wife has left in the bathroom over the last 20 years or so, and a handful of conversations with her about the emotional and sexual significance of the various tropes in the genres she reads. It's possible that things are different in subgenres she doesn't read, like "contemporary"; she almost entirely prefers ones with fantasy, SF, adventure, and other "non-realistic" themes, since this lets her get two categories worth of entertainment at once. ;-) But I'd be a bit surprised if it's dramatically different.)
I think it's fair to say that a lot of romance fiction is powered by the idea of a frightening man, even if, as you say, he has a good reason. I admit that this conclusion is the result of realizing that I don't like the genre, and I think that's the reason. The thing I don't understand in all these discussion is I know a fair number of men in long term-- and sometimes happy-- relationships. They aren't high-display of masculinity guys, and yet, somehow they've hooked up with someone. How did they manage it? Gone with the Wind is a hard thing to argue from. It's an extraordinary book-- very popular, but never duplicated. One of the things that drives it is that Scarlett is much more motivated by survival and status than the average female lead. I just realized-- it's actually an example of a relatively rare sort of women's fiction. Perfect guy shows up, but the woman is too busy to notice for most of the novel. The other examples I've got (Murder with Peacocks and Good in Bed), she's distracted by a bunch of things going on in her life, but not by being in love with the wrong guy. In a normal novel, she'd realize she's in love with him while he was still in love with her. Also, it's interesting that I've never heard anyone say that it was implausible for Scarlett to be fixated on Ashley. Part of what makes these discussions messy is that the fantasies that hook the hindbrain aren't necessarily what people want to live. There are a lot more men who like action movies than who'd like to be in violent fights.

The thing I don't understand in all these discussion is I know a fair number of men in long term-- and sometimes happy-- relationships. They aren't high-display of masculinity guys, and yet, somehow they've hooked up with someone. How did they manage it?

How old are they? Most people get married eventually. Furthermore, the older people get, the more they switch over to long-term mating strategies.

If you're an average guy, eventually you're going to "get lucky" and run into a woman who is into you. As people get older, more and more women get tired of bad boys and switch over to their long-term mating strategies (and in some cases, are looking for men to support them).

So our average guy will find a mate. The question is, how many years go by while he is only dating sporadically, while women (on average) are off having fun with the more masculine and exciting guys? When he finally does find someone, how much choice does he actually have? What is her level of attractiveness (in various areas) compared to his? Is she the "one" who is "right" for him, or is she simply the one woman who has shown interest in him in the past few years?

It seems that during ... (read more)

Given that there are so many subgenres of romance, I suspect we are talking about different ones. In the small sample of my wife's books that I've read, the hero is never described as frightening to the heroine. Typically, he takes the form of an annoying rival who the heroine believes is overconfident or arrogant, someone whose goals are (superficially and initially) at odds with those of the heroine. (It then usually turns out that one or both characters have been operating on the basis of a mistaken impression about the other's goals or character.) But I have never seen fear described as a heroine's reaction to anything except the villain, or her feelings for the hero. (Or more precisely, her anticipation of the problematic consequences of allowing her feelings for him to develop and be acted upon.) Fear of the hero himself, or his actions, though? To my recollection, never happens in these genres.
Thanks for the information. I may have been over-influenced by the blurbs on paranormal romances. And my take on "frightening" was that these are guys who any reasonable person with ordinary human abilities would find frightening, whether the heroine does or not.
From the "Perception Lab" at St Andrews: Older women tend to prefer more feminine faces. Women in the infertile part of their fertility cycle tend to prefer more feminine faces. Women rating themselves as less attractive tend to prefer more feminine faces. By the way, I don't mean to imply that your guy friends in particular are in stable relationships because of these tendencies - I can think of many other reasons beyond the differing attractiveness of their faces, or their demeanour.
This deserves emphasis. Our instincts are not interested in our happiness. There is no reason to presume that those we are most attracted to will be the same as those who will be the most satisfying either in the long or short term. (Although it is certainly strong evidence to be considered as well as a direct contributor to that satisfaction.)
Are these mostly older guys or more precisely guys in LTRs with older women? The increase over the last 4 decades in female personal income has made the "beta good provider" male strategy less successful. Also, some (e.g., the Man Who Is Thursday) say that the increase in female promiscuity has had a similar effect because (the thinking goes) once a woman has had sex with 1 or 2 extremely exciting men, she is less likely to settle for a LTR with a much less exciting one (and as long as she does not demand any sort of commitment from them, a woman using a "modern" sexual strategy will probably have sex with 1 or 2 extremely exciting men). Although I have a relatively small circle of friends, even I have a friend of a friend, now in her 60s, who only ever had sex with one man (the father of her kids to which she is still married) and she was quite beautiful, grew up in the proverbial big city (Manhattan) and has and had no notable social handicaps.
rhollerith_dot_com: If she doesn't demand any sort of commitment from them, she can have sex with many more extremely exciting men than that, if she's at all attractive. Even less attractive women can similarly easily have lots of sex and non-serious relationships with men who are far above what they can realistically expect to get for serious commitment, even if they won't be extremely exciting by absolute standards, so the same principle applies. There was a discussion of this issue on LW recently. If anyone's interested, these are my thoughts on the subject, and here I comment on some relevant research.
Most of my friends are around my own age, so both the men and the women are older than young. I'm not sure what the typical age for starting the relationships was.
OK but note that my point is not that women get less choosy as they get older (though that is almost certainly true) but rather that it was easier for a man of average attractiveness to win the hand of a 30-year-old woman 30 or 40 years ago than it is today.
IIRC, a study a couple of years back that said that the male hero raped the female heroine in about half of a large sample of romance novels they looked at. Can't remember how they chose their sample.
That is disrespectful. It's asserting that the hero knows better than the heroine what's good for her, and is entitled to act on her behalf. In my mind that's a much, much more dangerous meme than outright acting maliciously.
The phrase 'dangerous meme' jumped out at me. I agree that it is disrespectful and I personally make an effort to prevent people that try from having any part of my life. I actually have to bite my tongue at times so that I don't point out to young adults "You don't have to take that. You can choose your own boundaries, with consideration of your options and likely outcomes." (That put me in a particularly interesting situation when I was a teacher!) But going from 'undesirable behavior' to 'dangerous meme', well, strikes me as dangerous. It seems like a move from discussing behavioral preferences to considering the very fact that the behavioural pattern appeals to some people or plays a role in their literature of choice is wrong. I find the kinds of romance novels in question decidedly unappealing. Not just because they are aimed at women but because they are aimed at a different subset of women than those with whom I most empathise with. But I do know that there people who actually appreciate or are attracted to these same behaviours that I find obnoxious. Judging the very meme just because I personally don't prefer the behaviour would seem presumptive.
I don't think I intended the phrase as strongly as you interpreted it. However, "undesireable behavior" is too weak. As noted in another fork of this thread, I think that kind of paternalism is totally out of place between any two capable adults, but invididual cases are not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the notion that "members of group X know better than/are entitled to look after members of group Y." The particular example given happens to be sexist, but it would be offensive for any two groups of normal grown-ups. Perpetuating that idea in popular culture, e.g. via popular fiction, has negative effects on members of both groups, even if they're not directly exposed to the fiction itself.
That's not a notion that was actually present in the context and nor is it one that you introduced yourself (until now). I say this not to be pedantic or to accuse you of any form of inconsistency but rather because there is an implicit assumption that I don't share. The one that allows a leap from a fictional stories where a female protagonist interacts with an objectionably dominant hero to the general claim "members of group X know better than/are entitled to look after members of group Y". The particular example given happens to be of heroes who are sexist (or just excessively dominant) and female heroines with arguably terrible taste. If someone is offended that the heroine is attracted to the domineering hero or offended that a woman likes to read such books or empathises with the character then that is the problem of the person taking offence. Not the problem of the author, not the problem of the fictional protagonist and not the problem of literary porn fan. While my position on what it makes sense to declare offensive may well be irreconcilably opposed to your own it may be interesting to note that my objection here is actually similar to the objection that we both would share to the heroine being overridden. It is not OK to prevent (or shame or otherwise apply moral sanction against) people having, reading or writing stories that appeal to their own emotions. It is not OK to condemn literature because the character doesn't fit an ideal. I don't think "members of group know better than/are entitled to look after members of group ". Actually, you probably do 'know better than' but it is the 'are entitled to look after' that is in play when we consider declaring things offensive.
Yes, this particular example is of individuals in just a few works of fiction. But the pattern does happen to exist in many more. And it does happen to be a pretty common idea in our culture. I'm not deriving that from the few examples given; I'm deriving that from living in the culture. I'm not looking out for readers-of-that-fiction, I'm looking out for me, who has to live with them, and with the people who learn values from them. I'm also withdrawing from this conversation, because the amount of mental effort it's taking to participate is exceeding the payoff significantly.
In all sincerity the my goal in this conversation was not primarily to maximise the immediate enjoyment of the participants, for all that I do not like draining the mental energies of either others or myself. The role of morality has been discussed elsewhere recently and within that role declarations of things that things should be considered offensive or shamed serves as a powerful power play. It even more powerful when the assumption that something is sexist, prejudiced or otherwise normatively wrong is passed off implicitly without question. It takes very little for such beliefs or injunctions to become unquestionable and once in place can be a significant inhibitor of personal freedom. The task of minimising personal offence while at the same time acting to make a social move too expensive for it to be worth their while to try frequently is one that is quite difficult.
You're leaving out the part where I said that the hero's actions could be mistaken and/or tragic: i.e., in actual romance novels it's quite often the case that the hero only thinks he knows better than the heroine, that she fights his actions every step of the way, and/or the actions lead to bad results. I'm also a bit confused as to how you can say that either of the specific examples I gave qualify as "disrespectful". If somebody throws themselves in front of a bullet for you, is that being disrespectful because they think they know what's better for you?
I don't see either of these as analogous to throwing himself in front of a bullet. In both cases he's making a choice for her which she is capable of making herself--he's taking care of her instead of letting her take care of herself. Even in the first case, there's precedent in werewolf fiction for the lycanthrope to be voluntarily restrained to minimize damage. In the second case he's also mislelading her so as to actually prevent her from making the choice to, say, protect him with her superior abilities. It would be equally messed up if you switched the gender roles--saying "I'm going to do what I've decided is good for you instead of letting you make your own choices" always is, between two capable grownups. This just happens to be the direction which conforms to the popular trope about who is supposed to take care of whom.
This particular aspect may be unique to the romance genres my wife reads, but ISTM that the female leads in these novels are just as likely to make the same sort of imposingly-yet-self-sacrificing decisions for the male leads -- i.e., both parties doing it in the same novel, prior to reaching a saner equilibrium. The contextual implication I draw from the few ones that I read myself, is that: 1) The signal "I will do what it takes to protect you, even if you disagree" is covertly found attractive by the heroine, even when her rational/overt reaction is that it's stupid, unnecessary, condescending, chauvinistic etc. (This distinction is usually reflected in the heroine's inner and outer dialogs), 2) While the signal is valued, the actual behavior and effects are not -- by the time they reach "happily ever after", the hero grudgingly agrees to limit his heroic impulses to merely vigorously arguing and protesting against courses of action he deems too dangerous, rather than outright sabotage or quasi-suicidal pre-emptions. Hypothesis: once the hero has established the credibility of his signaled concern by actually putting himself at risk, the heroine can simply enjoy the now-credible verbal signals, without having the ongoing cost of excessive risk to him, or the annoyance of being treated somewhat condescendingly.
I wonder how much this is due to the American Jock vs Geek mentality. Geeks see masculine behaviour as out group so eschew it? The conflict isn't so bad in Europe (it doesn't carry on into University in the same way). That is not to say that European geeks are naturally intensely masculine, simply that it might be easier for them to adopt masculine behaviours, because they aren't having to act like the enemy. This dichotomy doesn't seem prevalent in all American culture, entrepreneurs seem quite happy with to straddle the line. How much of your experience is with people inside academia?
My experience is either inside academia or way the hell outside (people who didn't go to college.) I never met an entrepreneur. My experience with meeting Europeans is that smart people do have less of a geeky self-image than they do in the US (I've known Italian women mathematicians who look and carry themselves like movie stars) but that just about everyone in Europe is less into gorilla-type masculinity than men in the US. So I think your point is probably more relevant on the female end -- European female geeks are more conventionally feminine because they don't see a dichotomy. (I've also noticed that about Asian female geeks -- that is, raised in Asian countries, not Asian-American.)


just about everyone in Europe is less into gorilla-type masculinity than men in the US.

That's a mighty strong assertion to make about an entire continent that contains countries as different as, say, Sweden and Albania, or Moldova and Switzerland. Also, I'm certain that the sample of Europeans you've seen is unrepresentative in all sorts of relevant ways even of their own countries, let alone the entire continent.

Of course, if by this you mean the specific patterns of behavior characteristic of certain sorts of American men, then the claim is trivially true.

SarahC: That is true, for the most part. Where I come from, the electrical engineering students' club at the local university is a popular location for nightlife and rock concerts that attracts masses of people as a party hangout. Something like that is practically unimaginable in North America, but it's not at all unusual in Europe.
That's a mighty strong assertion to make about an entire contient that contains countries as different as, say, Canada and Nicaragua, or Alabama and San Francisco.
OK, that was an imprecise statement -- by "North America," I meant the U.S. and Canada, not the standard usage of the term. When it comes to the U.S. and Canada, however, I stand behind my assertion. There are indeed significant cultural differences between, say, Alabama and Northern California, but not when it comes to this question.
Whoa. I've also heard that in China, self-effacing and conscientious students can be the most popular. For the US, that's unimaginable. These pieces of data suggest that the polarization of men towards "geek / nice guy" and "masculine bad boy" in the US is at least partly cultural, and it could be fought by other cultural forces. That is the argument that David Anderegg makes in Nerds. While I disagree with Anderegg in some cases (e.g. dismissing the notion of Asperger's Syndrome), he has some excellent literary analysis of some of the tropes in American literature that influence how we think about masculinity. Anderegg argues that in the 19th century, a dichotomy developed between "men of action" and "men of reflection" in American thought. This dualism presented the man of action as positive and masculine, while the "man of reflection" was the "effete intellectual" or clergyman, associated with femininity and homosexuality. He argues that our modern concept of "nerd" is the descendant of the "man of reflection" and "effete intellectual" stereotypes. Read that entire chapter I linked to. Here are some of Anderegg's examples: * Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving's story was a classic example of "nerd vs jock," where the nerd is portrayed in many negative and stereotypical ways * Superman becoming incognito and undatable to Lois merely by being mild-mannered and wearing glasses * He argues that ancient Greeks didn't have such a dichotomy between brain vs. brawn/looks: heroes were typically intelligent, good-looking, and capable, while villains tended to be both ugly and stupid. * Ralph Waldo Emerson's notion of the American scholar Emerson's speech is fascinating and complex, but it definitely sets up the dichotomy between men of action and men of reflection. Here are some troubling excerpts (emphases mine): [...] [...] [...] Emerson makes a lot of good points, such as about avoiding past orthodoxies. But as Anderegg points out, his attitude is very
That's a very interesting reference, I'll try to check it out when I find some time. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with Emerson's work, so I can't tell if Anderegg is representing his views fairly. But in any case, I've always found the American phenomenon of equating intellectual interests with "nerdiness" alien and weird, and its exact historical origins are still a mystery to me, so I'll be interested in checking out the book and seeing if it sheds some light on it.
Another funny example of the nerd stereotype: Georges St. Pierre (aka GSP), the current UFC Welterweight Champion and one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world, thinks of himself as a nerd because he is into paleontology. If GSP is a nerd, does the term make any sense?
"I'm a nerd" is a pet peeve of mine. I also recall Michelle Bachmann describing herself as a "nerd" because she watches science programs on TV. Look -- occasionally going to museums or reading books or watching educational TV shows should be normal. It's not a distinguishing characteristic. I don't describe myself as a "nerd" on OkCupid because it just seems like a meaningless term by now. If you're looking for someone who's interested in ideas, well, I'm in academia, so that should tell you all you need to know. If you're looking for someone a little shy and silly, that'll come across too.

It is not normal for humans to occasionally go to musea or watch education TV shows, so it is indeed non-trivially informative to learn this about a human. It also clusters with other dispositional characteristics and therefore is useful for low-cost classifiers.

Because humans don't know much about the natural sciences, and certainly not in terms of predictive models, I have difficulty communicating with most of them about paperclip engineering topics. For example, when I start talking about endurance limits, I lose over 99% of the audience. It would be understandable if they could grasp the concept but weren't familiar with that particular term (it just means the stress -- load per unit area -- that a mechanical component could endure in tension for an arbitrary long period when applied cyclically i.e. on/off).

But that's not the situtation here. Their only knowledge of metallurgy and materials science is brief regurgitation of text that doesn't even map to a prediction as far as they're aware. So stuff is made out of atoms? Great, what predictions can you make with that? (That's on the better end of the human clippiness spectrum!!!)

Yes, it still means that people with intellectual interests aren't quite socially acceptable. Admittedly, there's a paradox-- he's saying something that he "doesn't tell people very much" in an ESPN interview-- we've not talking about a gigantic stigma. Still, I don't think he'd talk about a fondness for NASCAR racing in the same way.
The funny thing is that car racing is also a technical subject. As Anderegg points out in the "Nerds" book, it's strange that some intellectual and technical pursuits get a "pass" on being "nerdy" because they are associated with masculinity, such as playing fantasy football or being a car mechanic.
I wonder how much anti-intellectualism is separate motivation, and how much it's an effort to enforce gender roles.
If we simply recognize that it has two meanings which are often assumed to overlap but in fact do not always overlap, the puzzle is resolved. One meaning concerns a person's interests. The other meaning concerns a person's social skills. GSP calls himself a nerd because of his interests. After calling himself a nerd, he makes a half-baked attempt at presenting himself as socially inept ("I have a hard time finding a girlfriend"), but we don't have to believe him. As you imply by your rhetorical question, GSP in fact is not socially inept. And he applied the word "nerd" to himself. What this means, assuming he was speaking current American English and assuming he is not deluded, is that the two meanings of the word "nerd" have in fact started to separate in English. If "nerd" once meant something like: a socially inept person with a keen interest in an unusual topic, now it evidently can mean either "socially inept person" or "person with a keen interest in an unusual topic", without necessarily meaning both. Want proof? Here's proof: GSP is a nerd. He is keenly interested in an unusual topic, and he is not socially inept. QED (at least for one half of the claim). If all this is correct, then the word "nerd" is in fact evolving away from the concept that rolled the two ideas into one, i.e., the idea of keen interest in an unusual topic and the idea of social ineptness.
Constant: The real puzzle is not about the current meaning of the term, but why the former is normally taken to imply the latter. The existence of a widely used term that covers both meanings is just evidence that this connection is widely made, not an explanation of why it exists. [Edit: the rest of this comment is based on an incorrect reading. See the replies below.] I think your analysis is wrong. GSP (or at least the public persona he's presenting) is clearly an example that defies the stereotype. Yet because he fulfills one element of the stereotype, GSP seems unable to conceive of the possibility that he might be an exception to the other ones (or, alternatively, believes that claiming to be such would be absurd), and feels obliged to present himself as someone who indeed conforms to it wholly. This is evidence of the tremendous strength of the stereotype: since GSP displays "nerdy" intellectual interests, then despite the extreme appearance to the contrary, somehow he still must have a nerdy essence that makes him unattractive to women and ostracized by the cool and popular social circles. (I should add that the word "stereotype" is nowadays often used with strong moralistic meaning, but I'm using it as a neutral technical term for heuristics for categorizing people based on statistical discrimination.)
Actually, he doesn't believe that being a nerd means his social skills are so poor he can't attract a woman. He believes (perhaps accurately) that he's only interested in the relatively rare women who share his nerd interests. What's interesting is that he associates being a nerd with having difficulty finding partners, even though the connection isn't by way of poor social skills.
Interesting. So it looks more like it's a new meaning all the way down the line, as he uses the term. He has even supplied a new explanation (pickiness) for the old phenomenon (having a limited set of friends), which was previously explained by ineptness. It was easy to be confused because he is describing the familiar outward pattern of the nerd, even though he has a new explanation for it. Genuine linguistic evolution here?
You're right. On a more careful reading, my interpretation was incorrect.
You may be right but let me add to my argument. The evidence I see is of two competing meanings, an old one and a new one. The new one (obscure interest only) motivated the initial labeling, and the old one (obscure interest plus social ineptitude) motivated the subsequent rationalization. People have limited self knowledge and are constantly rationalizing what they just did or just said. Their self explanations are not definitive. I believe your argument requires that he has in fact mislabeled himself on the basis of an imperfect match between himself and the word. "nerd", and that he followed up by confabulating to make himself a better fit for the definition. In contrast, I argue that the word is in flux (as is the related stereotype), that he is correctly applying a new meaning, but that he misunderstands his own statement. I think self-misunderstanding is commonplace, so I find thus to be a natural, unforced possibility, rather than a contrivance. I think that the meaning of the word "nerd" has in fact changed due to the mind-boggling success of the likes of Bill Gates among others. Added: I propose ostensive definition as the key mechanism of change. Step 1: "a nerd is a socially inept person with special interests...". Step 2: ..."like Bill Gates." Step 3: "a nerd is a person like Bill Gates..." Step 4: "...who is famous for becoming fantastically wealthy through his special interests." From Step 1 to step 2, examples are generated. From step 3 to step 4, the examples yield a changed definition because what was most conspicuous about the examples has changed.
Constant: I agree that my comment was incorrect, and based on an inaccurate reading of what GSP said. Taking that into account, you're probably right that he is applying only the "obscure interests" meaning to himself. That said, I don't think the general use of the word has lost much, if any of its negative connotations, nor that the underlying stereotypes are becoming any weaker. You say: But notice that the public perception of Bill Gates is still in accordance with the full "nerd" stereotype. Watch the joke video that he made when he retired. What it clearly shows is that within the ranks of the rich, powerful, and famous, his position is very much like the position of a nerd kid among his more popular school peers: he is proud just because they're giving him some attention, and views this as a boost to his status. (Consider how unimaginable the opposite would be!) Certainly, despite all the money, power, and fame, nobody ever considered Gates as someone to admire and emulate in terms of style or social behavior, and not to even mention his complete lack of sex-symbol status. Moreover, even if the nerd stereotype acquired some positive connotations in terms of good career prospects during the eighties and nineties, this trend could only have been downward for the last decade or so, considering that both the economic and general social status of tech professions has been going down ever since the dot-com crash. The ongoing deindustrialization is increasingly catching up even with white-collar technical work.
I think language changes from generation to generation. Each generation retains its own language, its own meanings. Bill Gates was born in 1955. GSP was born in 1981. The year 1984 saw Revenge of the Nerds, the movie. The nerds in that movie were intellectually accomplished and social lepers. What intellectually accomplished fictional characters have we seen portrayed more recently, and let us see whether they were social lepers. Hermione Granger stood out for her intellectual accomplishments, but was not a social leper. UK of course, but an important character to her American fans. Americans have had cyberpunk heroes since Neuromancer, with Keanu Reeves playing two, William Gibson's own Johnny Mnemonic, and much more successfully, Neo of The Matrix, the superhacker. Not a social leper. A lot of other association of computer wizardry with more punk/goth outcast-ness than nerd outcast-ness, such as Kate Libby/Acid Burn/Angelina Jolie in Hackers (Jolie is genetically incapable of being a social leper) and the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander, aka "Wasp", the last Swedish to be sure but very much embraced by American readers, and anyway I think she's obviously inspired by earlier incarnations of the similar type such as Kate Libby of the American movie Hackers. Granted, Lisbeth Salander is socially disconnected, but it's a very different kind of disconnect from the "nerd" disconnect. What else. Sandra Bullock, Keanu's Speed costar, in The Net, portrays the socially disconnected computer expert in 1995, and she's no goth, doesn't go around in black leather, but she's still a much, much softer portrayal of the conservatively-dressed nerd, nothing like the taped-glasses nerd of 1984. And it's Sandra Bullock. What else? Having trouble thinking of major characters. There's Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State, another super-hacker of sorts, but while completely isolated, is so for perfectly legitimate reasons. Then there's the latest Die Hard movie, hacker pla
I've only seen a couple of the HP movies-- is Hermione's character presented much differently there than in the books? In the books, she's presented sympathetically, but she also has to navigate being disliked for knowing so much. Also in the movies, it seemed to me that she was very pretty, while in the books, she seems to have average looks.
Being disliked for knowing so much is not the same thing as being socially inept. But my recollection is that she was attacked primarily for being muggle-born, and more by Draco Malfoy than by anybody else. It's been a while. In the first movie Emma Watson was very much like the drawn character, becoming markedly less so in the later movies, maybe in part because the movies were made every two years or so, which meant that the actors quickly outgrew their characters. But the movies have been, I think, very faithful to the books as far as story and character go, within the necessary constraints.
Three nerds on one of the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (early 2000s) were socially inept (e.g. completely defenseless against bullying by Spike) and evil though less so than most of the bad guys.
Yes, those were definitely nerds in the bad old dual studious/inept sense. However, Willow Rosenberg was much more central to the series. Wikipedia actually says, "Willow is a shy and nerdy girl with little confidence," and, "Willow is presented as a bookish nerd with considerable computer skills, dowdily dressed and easily intimidated by more popular girls in school." says, "Willow started out as a meek and largely unassertive computer nerd, but eventually grew to be a powerful and authoritative individual," and, "In her early years at high school, Willow is a shy, naïve nerd with a light, risqué sense of humor. A member of the Math, Science, and Computer clubs, she is the person to go to for tutoring help. Willow is ridiculed by her more popular classmates, including cheerleaders Cordelia Chase and Harmony Kendall." It includes the corporate explanation of the shift in Willow: Which suggests that Whedon wanted to sustain Willow as more of a nerd in all respects, but the suits said no, and so this is why Willow became more of a Hermione and less of a female Anthony Michael Hall. Harry Potter came out in 1997 and Buffy (TV series) came out in the same year. Even though both the HP books and Buffy continued for many years, the characters were sufficiently established early on that my guess is that there was minimal influence. Thinking of female nerds, The Mummy's librarian pops into my head. Played by Rachel Weisz. Some degree of social awkwardness, but not really all that much. Definitely studious - knows enough to wake the antagonist.
"Dowdily dressed"? Not consistently. After 10 years, I still remember the impression a succession of dresses in season 3 made on me.
In light of Whedon's remark, it looks like you can thank corporate headquarters for the memorable succession of dresses. But Hannigan was smoking hot whatever she wore.
As others have already pointed out, it seems like your set of examples is not representative. I'm not very familiar with the popular culture from the last decade or so, and what I see of it usually evaporates from my memory quickly. However, one recent major Hollywood movie that I clearly remember promoting extreme negative nerd stereotypes was the 2007 Live Free or Die Hard, which features a "computer genius" character having just about every stereotypical "nerdy" characteristic imaginable. He is even shown as incapable of doing anything productive or profitable with his "nerdy" computer knowledge (he's depicted as living in his parents' basement in his thirties).
While that computer hacker lived in his mom's basement, he was not the only computer hacker in the movie. In fact there was another one, and a much more important one. For a movie to strongly depict a correlation between X and Y, the movie needs to show X and Y occurring together and not occurring separately. But Live Free or Die Hard does not do this. There is one computer hacker who lives in his mom's basement, but there is another one who does not and who is going to win the cop's daughter in the end. Contrast with Breakfast Club or Revenge of the Nerds, where the X and Y occur together and not apart. There are no good students/chess club members in the Breakfast Club aside from the nerd. It's easy to charge that I've been cherry-picking, and very hard to defend against that charge, so it would be tremendously costly for me to respond in this vein. Listing examples as I did requires a cooperative audience; if the audience turns on you it might be either because the audience is cherry-picking, or because you are cherry-picking, but either way, there is just no inexpensive way to pursue that line of argument at that point. I am not entirely without defense, because by luck one of the articles recently cited agrees with me about the shift over time in the frequency of what it calls Type 1 nerds. It says: Based on the examples I came up with, I gave 1984/1985 as the high point of the depiction of that sort of nerd, which is consistent with "most prevalent in the 70s and 80s". Furthermore, American Heritage Dictionary's history of the word "nerd" appears to give 1970 as a lower limit on when the word "nerd" accrued the intellectual element to its earlier "dud" meaning - and this is consistent with, and so supports, the article's claim that the nerd stereotype was most prevalent in the 70s and 80s. In fact it appears to have come into existence in the 70s, reached a high point in the mid eighties, and largely flamed out, at least in its more virulent manifestation.
You're right, I forgot about that other hacker character. In any case, I will defer to your superior knowledge of the modern pop culture, which I already confessed being largely ignorant of. On further reflection, you have convinced me that the pop culture stereotypes of technically savvy characters have changed. One possible reason for this is that among the present younger generations, computers are used by nearly everyone for fun in various ways, whereas 20 years ago and earlier, this was much more unusual and mostly restricted to "nerdy" kids. An interesting test of this theory would be to see how portrayals of computer-savvy characters have changed relative to those with other technical and scientific interests which have remained unusual and unpopular among the majority of kids. This theory seems to me more plausible than the explanation based on the economic success of tech entrepreneurs, both because the public image of tech magnates is still largely "nerdy" and because the status and economic prospects of tech professions have in fact been going down since the early 2000s.
The explanation from the rising popularity of tech does seem highly plausible.
Interesting examples. I gotta cite the TVTropes article on Hollywood Nerds: I think some of your examples are Type 2 Hollywood nerds: hot people with glasses stuck on. That type does defy the general nerd stereotype, but it doesn't do so in a believable way, so I'm not sure how much these portrayals actually dent the "nerd" stereotype. The "hacker" archetype is a bit different. "Hacker" incorporates rebelliousness and creativity which is attractive and high-status, in addition to being emotionally relatable. Goth and punk aesthetics also relate nerds to rebelliousness and Romanticism. Justin Long is an interesting character. Why did he become the hacker for Die Hard, other than having good looks? There actually are a bunch of qualities that both Justin Long's Mac character have, and Hollywood hackers have. Justin Long's character also exemplifies creativity (Macs are associated with media, and his clothes and hairstyle look artsy) and rebelliousness (against the authority of the PC in the workplace). The end result is that I only find Long semi-believable as a hacker. It's much easier to imagine him working in Final Cut Pro than doing scripting. My suspicions were confirmed when I looked up an interview of Long and found he does not have a technical mind: he says that he isn't good at math and his mind "doesn't work that way." Justin Long's Mac character is a textbook "Hollywood Nerd." Technical interests are cool to have as long as you mask them in rebelliousness or artsiness.
To avoid getting far off track, citing these fictions was in order to make a point about the changing meaning of "nerd". With that in mind, look at what the article you linked to says about real nerds: That's agreeing with my thesis about what the concept of "nerd" has come to mean recently. The article writer thinks that it is distinguishing real nerds (who are distinguished only by intense interest in niche topics) from Hollywood Nerds (who are type 1 or type 2). But if you simply look at a dictionary (none of them have been updated to reflect the new meaning - the latest shift is too recent), the word "nerd" did not just mean someone with an interest in niche topics. By (earlier) definition, a nerd was not "of average looks and social skills". The word has been gutted of its earlier meaning and emotional impact, making it no longer, or at least less, painful for someone to call themselves a nerd. The American Heritage Dictionary traces the meaning of "nerd" through time. In 1957, meant "square", which, looking it up, meant conventional or old-fashioned or opposed to current trends. Nothing there about intense interest in niche topics. Then in 1970, an uninteresting person, a "dud". Again, nothing there about intense interest in niche topics. At some point, the concept of "nerd" gained the element of keen and single-minded interest in niche and especially technical topics. while retaining the "dud" element. But now we see, in the article you link to, that "nerd" has, at least for some, dropped the "dud" element and retained only the (relatively new) element of interest in niche topics.
I agree with you that the concept of "nerd" has been slowly changing, but I think it's still pretty bad.
The nerd stereotype is alive and thriving in the big bang theory.
Yup. And there are other examples. Liz Lemon of 30 Rock, another current comedy. But Big Bang Theory is much more hard core. However Big Bang Theory is, I think, not the cultural benchmark that The Breakfast Club was. Edit: just thinking further, it occurs to me that Albert Einstein, with his dress and his hair, must have greatly informed the cultural stereotype of the badly dressed genius. Doctor Who is I think a sometimes "cool" version of Einstein. I think there's some overlap between the absentminded professor (as in flubber), the nutty professor (as in Jerry Lewis), Dick Van Dyke of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the nerd. We have the high intelligence, the being lost in one's interests, the social awkwardness and obliviousness, and so on. Shared among the absentminded professor types (informed, whether justly or unjustly I don't know, by the common idea of Einstein) and also the nerds.
I'll take your word for the cultural benchmark, it didn't make as much impact on the rest of the world as it did the states (I hadn't heard of it until 1997) Speaking of 1985, and crazy scientists you get Doc Brown. Now he was a cool version of Einstein, hair and all. Well actually Einstein is probably considered fairly cool for a scientist, the crazy tongue photo gives the impression he didn't take himself too seriously. Darwin vs Einstein, who is cooler?
Yes, it's things like these that I find bizarre. In the meantime, I read the chapters of Anderegg's book you cited above. I find his thesis very interesting, but as always in the history of ideas, it's hard to estimate the relative significance of particular cultural tropes, especially since I know little about all the other factors that could have influenced the development of this characteristic modern American stereotype. I've put his book on my reading list, so I'll probably have more comments when I get to reading it.
The link to Emerson's speech is in my post. You can read the relevant chapter in Google Books. The link I gave should take you to the history chapter starting with Ichabod Crane. In general it's a good book, but it has some wrong assumptions and moralizing.
This is important, not just for the specifics, but to remember that some pattern of behavior which seems absolutely innate may actually be culturally localized. So, are there geeky people in Europe? If so, what are they doing instead of science and engineering?
NancyLebovitz: I don't see why these specific patterns of behavior would seem "absolutely innate" even looking only at the U.S. There are lots of non-nerdy people with high intelligence, and I don't see any reason why they wouldn't excel in "nerdy" professions if they chose to enter them in large numbers. In my opinion, the main reason why non-nerdy smart people go mainly into non-technical professions is that in the American society, technical professions, on the whole, offer relatively low status considering the demands they impose. Where I lived in Europe (various places in ex-Yugoslavia), we've never really had anything comparable to the American notion of "geeks" and "nerds." It's hard to find even an approximate translation for these words which would have all the connotations of high intelligence combined with social ineptness, lack of masculinity, and obsessive interest in obscure and unpopular things. We do have words that denote these qualities separately, or for people who put excessive effort into success in school while lacking real-life skills and smarts, or who achieve high grades thanks to cramming rather than smarts and talent, etc., etc., and various terms of this sort are used to translate "nerd/geek" in different contexts. But there is no accurate translation, simply because there is no striking correlation between all these attributes. (That said, in recent years some of the American "geek" culture has been making inroads, but even what exists of it is still not comparable, since there is both less social nerdiness involved and much less correlation with interest, let alone high achievement, in science and engineering.) Partly this is because technical professions have higher relative status, so they attract plenty of intelligent people who are not at all deficient in social skills. The other reason is a very different youth culture and education system. As far as I see, these different circumstances usually tend to attenuate people's innate
Vladimir M asserts that in Europe, "technical professions have higher relative status". That agrees with my experience. My mom used to say that my engineer father would have higher status if he lived in the old country. Also, when letters from Europe arrived for my dad, his name was sometimes prefaced with the honorific "Ing." which is short for "Ingenieur", which means "Engineer".
How is the educational system different? As you may know, there's been a lot of interest lately in the US about how to lessen or eliminate bullying in schools-- there've been a number of suicides lately resulting from years of severe bullying. The only structural cause I've seen suggested (as distinct from recommendations of active anti-bullying programs) is the high emphasis on competitive athletics, and in particular, athletic competitions between schools. The other question is whether there's a process of bullying/ostracism in European schools which is aimed at other sorts of people.
NancyLebovitz: I don't have anything resembling a complete theory of these differences. It's certainly not about some clearly identifiable and straightforward organizational aspects that could be reformed in a planned way, and there are definitely deep cultural differences involved. One organizational difference that seems significant, though, is that I went through a system that had tracking done in such a way that smart kids of all sorts ended up separated from the not so bright ones, but largely mixed together, without being allowed to segregate by electing different coursework. (You had a choice of high schools with different curriculums, but everyone within the same high school had to learn the same, usually eclectic mix of things.) This did seem to create an optimal environment for introverted smart kids to grow up without being exposed to bullying (which was unheard of in the high school I went to), and giving them less inclination and opportunity to self-segregate into "nerdy" cliques.
There is bullying/ostracism however it isn't as formalised. I would be tempted to blame the sports. Simply it creates an in group of people that are considered higher status. There are pep rallies to them, with beautiful girls cheering them on, that has to create an inflated sense of worth/superiority/difference. So they persecute the out group, the geeks, to signal their in-group ness and preserve their sense of superiority. I suppose it is similar to the stanford prison experiment. Raise one group above another and that group seems to persecute the other.
It's definitely not the sports that do it. You may be right about all the rest of the stuff that is associated with sport over there. Cheerleaders? That's not just in the teen movies right, you actually have them? Does being a nerd and a good athlete seem out of place in that culture? Come to think of it there is a separate group for 'band nerds' too if my consumption of low grade entertainment is anything to go by. I wouldn't know where to put myself!
Yeah by sports I meant the importance given to it. In comparison we don't have such things as sports scholarships (irrespective of academic talent, which I think is called an entrance scholarship) for prestigious universities. Does Australia? I'm a Pom, so my exposure to American culture is mainly fictional in nature as well. I've seen a number of documentaries as well though. The BBC loves analysing the US.
Heck no. University sports here are relatively obscure. They are there for students who enjoy them but they are approximately status neutral.
High school cheerleaders at a game. This was actually a little harder to find than cheerleading competitions. It's morphed into its own sport.
Athletes don't do all the bullying-- not even most of it, I think. It's possible that the high emphasis on sports poisons the whole atmosphere.
NancyLebovitz: That's not a necessary implication of whpearson's theory. Once the athleete/nerd stratification has been established, it may create bullying incentives for those who are physically stronger than the nerds, but not part of the elite athlete circle. Such individuals will want to assert superiority to the nerds to at least confirm their middle-rank status if they can't achieve the top one, and bullying seems like a straightforward strategy. I didn't go myself through the American school system, though, so I have no idea how well this hypothesis holds water.
I didn't go through the American school system either but your theory seems to match with general observable tendencies. Bullying and crude social aggression isn't an indicator of high status so much as an indicator of 'medium high status that requires effort to maintain'. This is why I make sure I never work for an insecure boss.
Define what you mean by geeky... If you mean people that don't like to party, then from my experience they are doing science and engineering and probably some humanities as well. They also generally co-exist quite happily with the party-ers, at least at University level. I've just realised how much we have a cultural one way mirror. I've seen fictional depictions of fraternities, keg standing, hazing etc, however you probably haven't seen what a European rock concert is like. Which is generally non-violent, unless you get in the mosh pit. I say European, but in some ways I have less idea of what mainland European social life is like than American.
Vladimir_M's "high intelligence combined with social ineptness, lack of masculinity, and obsessive interest in obscure and unpopular things" is good enough except that I'd add lack of femininity to the list. One horrifying feature of American culture in the 50s was that intelligence was considered not masculine and not feminine, and since everyone was supposed to be one or the other, being visibly intelligent had a social cost. In my opinion, a major (but incomplete) change in this happened when it was clear that people could make money in IT. I'm inclined to think the Flynn effect is also taking hold. From a science fiction convention: A women mentions that sometimes she feels she's just got to do something different with her hair, and fannish women are apt to look at her as though she's crazy. Historical note: I think that identifying interest in dressing up with being effeminate is a modern weirdness. The only culture I can think of where men and women who could afford to didn't get about equally elaborate and showy was colonial America, and in that case, the men were dressier. Afaik, American rock concerts are mostly non-violent, but this is very much second hand. Anyone have more information?
Every mainstream rock concert I've ever been to in the US has been entirely non-violent, modulo the occasional and mostly unrelated edge cases that arise when you get a thousand drunk people together. Even metal and punk concerts aren't violent outside of the mosh pit, and I'm not sure that properly counts as violence, being consensual and generally not aimed at causing injury. Sounds a lot like the European case, in other words.
This is true. Gorilla-type masculinity is not what I had in mind when talking about masculinity (being European and all). I was thinking about being into sports/cars/heavy metal (going back to your nice/anti-nice dichotomy) or just generally being confident and self-assured. If that is what you want, then I can see why it conflicts with some of the fundamentals (kindness, competence). Gorilla masculinity seems to be about getting what you want through physical intimidation. If that is the hammer that you have used the most through your life, then everything will look like a nail. If you typically try to convince people with competent argument or being kind, then you are less likely to reach for the physical intimidation toolkit of gorilla masculinity. ETA: I wonder why there is a difference in masculinity in Europe. I'd make up some just-so-story about the more physically aggressive men having been killed in the two world wars, unless it is purely memetic.
I consider competent argument to be far more representative of gorilla masculinity than whatever the other category is. Viewing conversations in certain communities (for example, MENSA mailing lists) I've seen patterns that look remarkably like what I would expect from gorrilas - guys trying to dominate each other with verbal sparring while girls are competing via asserting moral control and creating social alliances with other women and undermining the status of targets. Depending on your physical self confidence the physical forms of intimidation can seem gentle and benign in comparison.
I think there is more than two categories here. Gorilla's don't talk much in general... There is plenty of that in Europe.... so I'm not sure if it contributes to what activates SarahC's hindbrain. As gorilla masculinity's top hit in google is SarahC's comment, it is up to her to say what it means. To me it had hints of a pure physicality (rather than verbal) to it which she may not have meant to impart.
Right, there's something to that. And I don't like people who intimidate people by force. If there's a direct conflict, I'm going to go with the person who's kind and competent. (Also, I'm starting to hate my "nice/anti-nice" dichotomy -- in retrospect that post made no sense.)
I love this phrase. It reminds me of this exchange, which happened out loud: "You drive like a guerilla." "... what?" "Not the ape. The kind with a beret."
I would also hazard to guess that the degree of hardness (err... make that not-softness) that appeals varies on a 28 day cycle. ('Guess' in as much as studies and my own observations of the general population may of course not apply to individual cases. Indeed, there are some obvious potential reasons why they wouldn't.)
Good guess. They've done this study, and you're 100% right. We watched a bit of a film discussing it in my anthro class. (I didn't note whose study it was, but the film is called "Why Sex?" and you could probably find out from there.) They used a program where you could slide smoothly between a very feminine face and a very masculine one, and asked women to find someone along that scale who looked ideal for a short-term fling, and someone else for a long-term relationship. The difference between the two follows the pattern that you'd expect--more masculine and virile-looking for the short term, softer and more kind-looking for the long term--but both answers slid further towards the masculine end of the scale when the subject was currently ovulating.

I've heard about people who find talking extremely anxiety-provoking, while communicating by writing is easy and comfortable for them. I expect someone like that would have the sort of social skills mismatch you're describing. They aren't faking the skills on-line, they have a disability making it hard to use them in person.


I have a (fading, but still present) hang-up about phone conversations. They're harder for me than either in-person communication or text. You don't have the time to think things through that you do on IM, but you also don't get facial cues to help you. So my phone conversations are almost always short, and of the form "Hi, I'm at the train station."

I'll agree and add that as well as anxiety another limiting factor for in person socialisation is time. Processing in real time, and particularly in real time in a group context, is the hardest part of the socialising task. They can make the perfect response, just 5 seconds too late.
I've noticed that I'm like this in some situations but not others. Specifically, I feel like I have plenty of time in social situations to work through potential word choices and optimize for my specific listener, but trying to think of arguments in a debate feels like walking through molasses. Realizing that gave me a lot more sympathy for people who can rule an intellectual conversation but are terrible at predicting how their listeners will interpret what they say in social contexts. I hadn't quite internalized the idea that it might just be really hard.

I've noticed that I'm like this in some situations but not others. Specifically, I feel like I have plenty of time in social situations to work through potential word choices and optimize for my specific listener, but trying to think of arguments in a debate feels like walking through molasses.

That's a good point. By contrast arguments (or at least rational reasoning - rhetoric fits a different category) come seemingly pre-formed from my intuition for free. Social political reasoning takes actual effort. That isn't to say I can't do it in real time, just that I like to make sure ahead of time that I am in a good state for socialising in order to get the most from it. In the ideal case that means I have spent an hour in the gym earlier in the day, are reasonably well rested and possibly consumed some aniracetam, modafinil or at least caffeine. I find those all raise the level of social ability that comes free from my intuition without (potentially time-delaying) effort.

One way I like to look at differences in abilities in general is not so much the absolute level of competencies but in which order they decay under negative influence such as sleep deprivation, stress or chemical interference. In my case it seems to be:

"Everything else" -> consciousness -> rational argument -> life itself.

Although I haven't tested the last one. I apologize ahead of time if after I die zombie-wedrifid reanimates and starts explaining why it is rational to "let him eat your brains".

Voted up because degradation under adverse circumstances is an important concept.
I'm finding keeping up with your enormous responses exhausting; at this point it has exceeded my interest in/priority assigned to what's being discussed. Sorry.
Why are you apologizing? I wouldn't want anyone I reply to feel that they must respond, or even read my comment. Take the length and detail of my responses as a compliment to the interesting issues your original post raised. It's good for me to get these thoughts into writing, and I'm sure someone will find them interesting. Perhaps the next time these topics come around, I'll be able to organize my thoughts more succinctly. I was thinking of doing a comment listing some studies of sex differences in preferences, and why we should have pretty dismal priors about the generalizability of certain sorts of dating advice between genders, but maybe I'll only post it if I get requests from you or others.
To signal courtesy and lack of ill will, despite my retreat from the conversation. :)

Perhaps I made a mistake in addressing honesty and attractiveness separately, because you're not the first person to assume that my advice about honesty precludes attempting to make your profile seem attractive.

To be fair, you did talk about a balance between attractiveness and honesty. But when you put so much more of an emphasis on honesty over impression management, I couldn't tell how you thought that people should find that balance, and I felt motivated to add some caveats.

It's just a roundabout way of saying "don't try to present yourself as someone other than who you are." I assumed that "show your best side" was understood; clearly it isn't.

Ah... but who are you?

A lot of conventional advice on dating references notions of identity and selfhood, such as the famous "just be yourself." The problem with such advice is that identity is itself a hard problem. As a result, for many people figuring out their identities (and who isn't?), identity isn't a very useful concept for figuring out how to behave socially. Actually, that notion may be backwards: learning social behavior is far more useful for figuring out one's identity.

These conventiona... (read more)

The Vorlon Question!
Of course, in a dating context, it's at least as important to know the answer to the Shadow Question: "What do you want?"
Depending on your philosophy on dating the Shadow Question could be more important. Lorien's First Question "Why are you here" would also be a good thing to know in reference to the dating site itself.
And sometimes you need to strip it all back to fundamentals and ask the first-ones question: "do you have anything worth living for?" Once you've figured that out, you can proceed with the other two.
You don't look like a Vorlon question ;)
Just wait until he takes off his encounter suit.
I suspect that people will still find something to trigger their Flaw-O-Matic. A little bit off-topic here: The "unattainability" of the female beauty ideal seems to be a feature, not a bug, because it lets men make finer distinctions. If everyone were a perfect 10, how would we know who to reject? ;) (And you do have to reject someone.)

Frankly, I think that all this advice is simply irrelevant for all practical purposes. The goal of a dating site profile is to elicit interest and attraction from people who would in turn be attractive to you. However, what this post presents are just instructions for satisfying the author's entirely abstract vision for what a nice profile should look like. They are not guaranteed, or even likely, to improve your chances for eliciting attraction even from the author, let alone anyone else. Ultimately, the listed advice ends up being pure noise at best. The fact that a post like this one is getting a significant number of upvotes should serve as a strong warning signal to lots of people here that they greatly overestimate the level of "rationality" that they supposedly apply to all issues.

One basic problem is that the author starts with an impossible goal, namely providing fully general advice that will apply to people of all sexes and sexual preferences with unchanged wording. While such an approach resonates well with the modern popular forms of idealism, it is far too detached from reality to allow for any sensible results.

Another part that struck me as completely det... (read more)

Steve Barnes asked the woman he knew who most resembled the woman he was looking for what she wanted, and made changes in himself to be more like that. It worked for him-- he's happily married. On the other hand, this isn't the same as asking for general advice.
Interesting. I wonder what you do when "what your ideal partner wants" and "what you want to be" conflict. I guess you figure out which one's more important to you.
Your criticisms of this post seem valid, but could likely be equally well-applied to (for example) most of what Eliezer and Yvain have written. To test this for yourself, go to a random post from (for example) the Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions sequence and see how much empiricism stands behinds its claims. Posts like this are fine, though they should be followed up by empirical study if anyone cares.
thomblake: I disagree. While I certainly have disagreements with these posts you mention, their approach is still fundamentally sound. They don't, at least in the great majority of cases, provide unsubstantiated practical advice in this vein, and they rarely, if ever, fail elementary sanity checks like these ones I mentioned.
As noted, the post was a summary of the thoughts given in the OKC thread; some people were seeking advice from their preferred gender, and some from people who shared their preference. So I am reporting that, among LWers who use OKCupid, there are indeed two beliefs.
Well if you're so sure what it ain't, how about telling us what it am?
The only thing that "guarantees" eliciting attraction--from me or anyone else--is being attractive. If you write honestly about how you are a person whose interests and values do not intersect with mine, and present it well, I still will not message you. This is not a failure of your writing; it has saved us both some wasted time.
Relsqui: I have no particular comment on what you write here, but I would like to point out that this makes my above comment sound much cruder than it really was. The phrases "guarantee to improve one's chances for eliciting attraction" and "guarantee eliciting attraction" do not mean the exact same thing.
Where 'being attractive' to a significant degree means 'doing things that elicit attraction'.
Not to sound arrogant, but as a man successful with women, I can offer my advice to other men here. Feel free to reply to this comment or PM me with questions.

Hey, I'd like some advice.

When I hang out in nightclubs, I seem to have two discrete states with a very abrupt transition between them: an "off" state where I'm almost invisible to girls, and an "on" state where they suddenly hang on me in twos and threes. But the "on" state happens rarely (once or twice a month for several hours, max) and I'm still not sure how to trigger it, even though I've spent months on experimenting. I've established that it doesn't depend on clothing, haircut, posture or the other obvious controllable factors - it must be some aspect of "inner game" that I sometimes achieve spontaneously but can't put a finger on. I also know that it's easier to reach the "on" state after a random girl smiles at me: it becomes a little easier to make the next random girl smile at me, and (with luck) it escalates like runaway AI. Does this match your experience? What is this thing, and do you know any tricks for "switching"?


When I hang out in nightclubs, I seem to have two discrete states with a very abrupt transition between them: an "off" state where I'm almost invisible to girls, and an "on" state where they suddenly hang on me in twos and threes.

In PUA lingo, this state is referred to as simply "state", since it's of course the state that PUAs want to be in. ;-)

PUA theorists vary as to what this "state" consists of, but they do say a few things in common about it and about how to produce it. Many have commented on this aspect you describe:

I also know that it's easier to reach the "on" state after a random girl smiles at me: it becomes a little easier to make the next random girl smile at me, and (with luck) it escalates like runaway AI

Some thinking goes along the lines that the key elements are "nonreactivity" (ie., not being concerned about what other people think of you) and "self-amusement" (i.e. doing things for your own enjoyment and amusement, rather than to achieve some particular outcome).

At the same time, the comments of many gurus suggest that they themselves do not have total or absolute control over this sta... (read more)

Wow, I should have known that you would show up :-) Thanks for the info! Your advice seems to be along the same lines as pwno's, so I'm reasonably sure that it's worth trying.
Is the nonconscious, adroit performance of well-practiced behavior which is often referred to by ahtletes as "flow" identical to "state," a component of "state," or completely unrelated?
Well, the ways that PUAs "pump state" and the athletes "psych up" certainly have some things in common. Chest bumping, high-fiving, rhythmic group chants and exhalations, or strutting and other displays of confidence, status, or masculine attributes.
"Flow" is certainly a much more general term, no?
PUA state involves flow, but also other things.
Many people have the same experience. You've landed the right mindset for a brief time and your outer game improved. I believe the mindset is mostly a function of personal expectations about your interactions with women. When you expect the interactions to go towards your desired direction, you're more likely to hit the mindset. Problem is, you can't make yourself expect positive results just like you can't make yourself expect coldness when you touch fire. The most straightforward technique to "switching" this mindset on is to prove to yourself, on a conscious and subconscious level, that you should expect positive results. Gather your evidence, by achieving easier, related goals. For example, if you're in a nightclub and not in you preferred mindset, try achieving the following: * Ask 5 people for a piece of gum or the time. * Introduce yourself to other men or women you're not interested in * Ask a good looking female friend to join you * Call up a female friend and have a chat * Make and hold eye contact with 5 girls (without approaching) You can probably come up with small goals yourself too.
Thanks! Sounds plausible, I'll test this.
How do you know that this apparent state difference isn't due to confirmation bias and standard tendencies for humans to see clustering where it doesn't exist?
Good question, made me think. At any given moment, except the short period of ramp-up, I can tell whether I'm "on" or "off" - from the inside it feels like it's binary. But it's true that on the outside my success varies on a continuous scale, because when I'm "off" I still have some tricks up my sleeve. But these tricks require a lot of willpower to use. When I'm "on", everybody likes me and willpower becomes irrelevant. Maybe it's about dynamics: when I'm close to "on", I gravitate toward "on" as I get more validation from others, but when I'm close to "off", I slide toward "off" for the same reason.
I wonder... is this a "social proof" a.k.a. Magnetic Girlfriend effect? (If you have one girl hanging on you, others become interested?) Edit: Rephrased to fix ambiguity.
Warning: "Magnetic Girlfriend" is a TV Tropes link.
Definitely not. If I shake myself free and go to another room alone, it works just as strongly.
EDIT: This comment is obsolete; it was based on an ambiguity that has been fixed. Not clear what distinction you're drawing - if the latter is the effect itself, then it describes it by definition; the question is what's the cause, of which "social proof" is one possible. Or how were you thinking about it?
Fixed, sorry. (Two different names for the same basic thing.)
I don't doubt that you're as successful as you claim, but given that neither of us has presented any proof, what makes your single data point more valuable than mine?
What evidence would you expect me to be able to provide online?
I'm not asking for evidence. I'm asking why it's okay for you to offer advice based on the strength of your own personal experience, when it apparently isn't okay for me to do so. Or do you disagree with the people claiming the latter?
It's a factual question whether positive personal experience backs up usefulness of principles one follows, not some kind of social norm, where you can make egalitarian appeals.
It's not an appeal, it's an honest question. Aren't we both claiming that our personal experience backs up our principles? If you're saying that there's a difference between the two cases, can you explain what that difference is? I'm genuinely trying to understand.
Agreed, interpreted this way it's a good argument. I answered the literal and perhaps unintended interpretation.
I'm relieved that we're back on the same page. I do try to avoid the kind of implication you were responding to, for exactly this reason; it's difficult, but I'll continue trying.
Part of the difference is that you are a different gender from pwno. Your experience may support your advice for women, but it doesn't give much evidence of its effectiveness for men. Another difference is that pwno seems like he hangs out with more mainstream and gender-typical people, while your profile suggests that you hang out with alternative and gender-atypical people (based on your comments about disliking gender stereotypes). Your experiences in the minority gender-atypical taxon of 10-15% of the population may not generalize well to the majority taxon of gender-typical people. Anecdotal evidence from pwno and Vladimir_M may generalize better.
Assuming that you're using info from my OKC profile to place me in that taxon, it bears noting that a lot of women who place near me on the Kinsey scale probably identify as straight. I don't think I'm quite as unusual as you think I am, but the point is still valid.
Most of this post's discussion has revolved around what sorts of things are okay for Relsqui to post on this site. That is exactly a question of social norms. How your factual question turns out is only relevant in that it has some bearing on the question of whether the things in this post should have been posted here.
The social norm is not to post things that are not expected to be factually correct based on usual LW background and arguments given in the post itself. It's more general than not posting things containing any specific error, and so it's incorrect to say that there is a social norm against any given specific pattern, that is currently considered in error.
Wrote my comment in light of this:
Understood. However, a couple of people elsewhere in this thread are claiming that I have no business giving advice about online dating without being able to give some evidence that my advice works. Do you disagree with them? Or do you think that it's inappropriate for me to do so, but appropriate for you to? Or neither?
Depends what you mean by "have no business giving advice." Not all advice without evidence is bad advice. There are heuristics we use to figure out which unsupported advice is better than others. Based on some people's heuristics, like Vladamir_M's, my unsupported advice would more likely lead to better results (assuming all else equal).
What's the relevant difference between your advice without evidence and mine? Is it that he already expects advice from men about seeking women to be sound, and more general advice not to be? I don't know that there's any way to pursue ths question without sounding defensive, which is not my intent. I just want to make sure I understand the objections to my post.
pwno didn't seem to imply that his argument applied to his advice and not yours.
Yeah, that's now clear to me--at this point I'm just curious.
Not talking about evidence of the personal anecdote being accurate, but about the evidence of the advice being useful, which accurate account of successful personal anecdotes is not.

As far as I can tell, once OKC has decided you like something, there's no way to explicitly tell it you don't. Even removing it from your profile doesn't kick in immediately. If someone searches for, say, "scientology," and you put in your profile that "scientology is crap," you will come up on the search. This is not what either of you is trying to accomplish. Besides, that doesn't describe you. If you're an active organizer of major scientology protests and are looking for someone to do that with you, okay, put it in. Short of that, don't give yourself keywords you don't want.

When I worked on a "search and metrics" team, one of the things we discovered by trying a recommendations engine implementation on a slice of the site's traffic for a bit was that what seemed to matter most for the purposes of the recommendation engine was simply that a user had any reaction at all to a video. It seemed that the vast majority of content space just bores any given person, but "passions predict passions" even when the passions have different valence (hate/love).

Maybe my experiences don't apply here, but it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable to imagine that OKCupid's "stupid algorithm" operating on naive behavior could out perform algorithmically aware meta-strategy that "made sense" but hadn't been validated with some sort of field experimentation :-)

I believe you can get yourself off the list as liking something, but only by selecting "not an interest" when presented with an icebreaker match based on that flag. I, for instance, am officially off the lists as liking "having fun," the phrase being included in my profile as part of a jab at people who say that they "like having fun."
Ha--that's interesting, although not too surprising. A lot of people looking at media seek out things they think are awful on purpose, to get riled up and then pass it on. (There's an Abstruse Goose about that, although I can't for the life of me find it.) I'd like to think it's less true that people actively seek out dating profiles of people they think are horrible, but in my heart I know that it isn't. : \ In general I would agree not to assume that their algorithm is wrong when they're the ones with the data. But I still think it's a better use of my time to find people who like what I like.

What Vladimir_M and pwno said. Does your advice work? How would you know?

I do okay, but I'm of course only the one data point. I am assuming that the people in the thread who gave relevant advice believed it, but can't vouch for their reasons to. In the bits discussed by OKT, their data/rationale is in their posts.
If LW had a list of capital crimes or deadly sins, inferring causation from correlation based on one friggin' sample would definitely belong there. I'm thin and I live in Russia, therefore, everybody come to Russia to get thin!
That it works for me is not why I think it's good advice. That it works for the people whose profiles I'm attracted to is closer, with a bit of "it follows logically from my stated goals" mixed in. I'm happy to remove the post back to the discussion section if it's deemed valueless to the LW community at large. But I'm curious why advice for profile-writing calls for statistical evidence, whereas advice for mood improvement and advice to get out more apparently do not. What's the rule which defines topics to which we must apply rigor?
Rigor is not the issue. If you state something that readers already accept, then you don't need to argue, and statements that further describe the situation are not arguments, but further elements of the picture that readers already accept as well (but maybe didn't know to pay attention to themselves, or to arrange in the whole quite the same way). On the other hand, if you present a statement which isn't evidently correct, then you have to argue its correctness. Statements that were properly part of further description in the first case are now expected to be arguments, something readers can agree with, and not further doubtful assertions. Thus, expected reasonable agreement, not rigor, is what's required.
That's a very sensible answer, and I'll accept it. The discrepancy, then, is that the contents of this post seem about as self-evident to me as the emotional nihilism advice does; I'm quite surprised to find that it's more controversial. Is there some common knowledge I'm contradicting?
I dislike presentation of emotional nihilism post for the same reason. No contradictions, just prior expectation that mere sensible advice often doesn't work in complicated social context, and empirical evidence is necessary to distinguish things that actually work from things that seem reasonable but don't.
I'm not sure that is the case. Sometimes people brainstorm; sometimes they suggest hypotheses; sometimes they share ideas. Any of these can look grammatically like a declarative statement, but they are not assertions. They are more like conjectures. They justify their presence in a conversation by being interesting and provocative, not by being supported by evidence and argument. Very little of human communication transfers information about the external world. The bulk of it either transfers information about the speaker's mental state or is intended to focus the listener's attention on some thing, event, or idea.
When you argue correctness of a statement with which the interlocutor doesn't originally agree, and use a proof-like strategy for doing so, you don't transfer information about environment either, instead you focus their attention on a sequence of statements already accepted, that surprisingly leads to the originally unexpected conclusion. When you brainstorm, then the observations you seek are exactly the ideas produced by intuition, so you are not asserting anything about something else, instead you are producing the basic observations. When you voice your opinion, assuming you are trustworthy, you communicate your state of knowledge, and your interlocutor believes that your state of knowledge is indeed as you state it.
Relsqui: Rigor? In this case, it's not about rigor, but about failing elementary sanity checks. The idea that something that works for you in this area should apply to people of other sexes and preferences is simply out of touch with reality. It's as if a cook made a checklist useful for his daily work, and then got the idea that this exact same checklist should be useful to policemen, mathematicians, or welders. Please pardon my harsh-sounding tone, but that is simply what the facts are, and I don't see how to put them differently.
I, for one, do not find this obvious. It seems to me rather more analogous to a cook who made a checklist for making pancakes, which he expected would apply to other cooks making pancakes whilst wearing differently-colored hats. But there's no point in playing analogy-tennis. You've managed to shift the burden of proof back to yourself with this comment. Where's your evidence, now?
thomblake: Your analogy assumes that between people of different sexes and sexual preferences, there are no relevant differences that would have any significant bearing on their dating strategies. Frankly, I find this assumption so remote from reality, including all my experience with human life and all that is known about it both informally and scientifically, that if you really hold this opinion, it would be extremely hard for us to establish a common reference point from which to even begin a constructive discussion. So, it would probably be better if we could just agree to disagree at this point.
I think the relevance of the difference depends on the specificity of the advice. If I were telling people to show off their brains and their sense of humor, or to make a point of talking or not talking about sex, or to be sure to mention their pets, then yes, it would be ridiculous of me to claim that these are generally applicable. But the post is mostly discussing how to ensure that your profile depicts you accurately. Do you think that there is a group for which that's not a concern?
To be clear, there are two fundamental problems with your post. First, even when it comes to just you personally, you don't seem to present any coherent method for differentiating between things that you simply like as a matter of personal taste, and things that have practical relevance (to whatever effect). In your post, you appear to have a completely cavalier attitude towards this immensely difficult problem. Second, in this area, the relevant guidelines for self-presentation are indeed so strongly sex-and-preference-specific that anything not completely trivial or irrelevant is almost certain to be impossible to express in a manner applicable to all groups. In other words, everything that can be expressed in such manner will be either obvious, or irrelevant, or false and misleading for at least some of these groups. These simple observations, to which I referred as "sanity checks" in my above not very well received comment, are in my opinion sufficient to invalidate your approach altogether, and to conclude that by any practical criteria, your advice is likely to be just noise. As for your specific question: In order for your advice to make sense, you have to be able to point out the expected practical consequences of the concrete pieces of advice you give, and to explain why you believe that they will result from following your advice. Your approach completely fails to satisfy these criteria, both when it comes to "depicting oneself accurately" (which I'm not even sure is a coherently defined objective) and everything else. (Not to mention that your post does contain specific advice about improving the attractiveness of one's profile, which I've already criticized.)
I see. Just to make sure I've understood correctly, my impression from this: is that you do not believe the post is salvageable, because it's built on a foundation which is flawed for the reasons you give. These are useful flaws to be aware of when composing future posts, and I will try to remember them. If it is indeed unsalvageable, though, I don't see what productive action I can take about it now, short of performing a rigorous study and rewriting the post from scratch based on the results (which is farther than my interest and resources extend). I could delete it, but that seems a bit dishonest (in that it dodges the karma hit for a bad post) and also robs me of productive feedback. So my intent is to let it stand.
I see. Just to make sure I've understood correctly, my impression from this: is that you do not believe the post is salvageable, because it's built on a foundation which is flawed for the reasons you give. These are useful flaws to be aware of when composing future posts, and I will try to remember them. If it is indeed unsalvageable, though, I don't see what productive action I can take about it now, short of performing a rigorous study and rewriting the post from scratch based on the results (which is farther than my interest and resources extend). I could delete it, but that seems a bit dishonest (in that it dodges the karma hit for a bad post) and also robs me of productive feedback. So my intent is to let it stand.
Which makes this argument not worth mentioning. If the method worked, but you didn't do okay, that would also not be worth mentioning. Compare with personal accounts of how well a given medicine works posted on the Internet.
You do understand that males and females on OkCupid have different standards for "doing okay" on average, right?

More advice: Only date grown-ups. While it's addressed to polyamorists, it seems generally applicable. If you wanted to identify grown-ups (as defined in the link) on OKCupid and/or to present yourself as a grown-up, how would you do it?

Ha. I have I bad habit of using the word "grown-ups" approximately the way the author of that article does--to refer to people who are mature, capable, and at least somewhat self-aware. I call it a bad habit because it's pretty rude to adults who do not meet that description, and they are not necessarily bad people who deserve to be insulted. But in any case, it made the headline make instant sense to me. !! This was one of the first things on my list of relationship axes (various spectra of traits that are important in a partner). It's good to hear I'm not the only one who thinks so. In general, this list is a great answer to the brainstorm I started in the OKC discussion thread. That's a great link; thanks. I'm already familiar with a lot of those ideas these days; I wish I had been two years ago. One way to find grown-ups would be to watch out for red flags which indicate not-grown-up. I dated someone for a while who always talked like his hands were tied by circumstance--lots of "I can't," very little acknowledgement that he had agency. I found it really irritating because it made it seem like he couldn't deal with obstacles in everyday life. That's a non-grown-up trait. But of course, the same guy was also really good at communicating clearly, expressing needs, and respecting boundaries. (I still remember the obligatory pre-first-sex conversation: "Shall we get the safety talk out of the way?" "Sure. I've been exposed to x but do not have it, was tested y long ago, and have done z since then." "Okay. I've done ..." etc.) In that sense he was really a pleasure to have as a partner, and very much a grown-up. This reminds me of Havi Brooks's theory of kosher marketing, which goes roughly "anyone who self-markets less than you is too timid, and anyone who self-markets more than you is obnoxious." You can apply it to a lot of things. "Anyone who's tidier than you is a neat freak; anyone who's messier than you is a slob." Including, of course, being a grown-up.

Why didn't you mention any advice on status signaling?


User:Relsqui probably didn't mention it because it's such an easy issue to handle. Just add this to your profile:

I am slightly more committed to this group’s welfare, particularly to that of its weakest members, than most of its members are. If you suffer a serious loss of status/well-being I will still help you in order to display affiliation to this group even though you will no longer be in a position to help me.

I am substantially more kind and helpful to the people I like and substantially more vindictive and aggressive towards those I dislike. I am generally stable in who I like.

I am much more capable and popular than most members of this group, demand appropriate consideration, and grant appropriate consideration to those more capable than myself.

I adhere to simple taboos so that my reputation and health are secure and so that I am unlikely to contaminate the reputations or health of my friends.

I currently like you and dislike your enemies but I am somewhat inclined towards ambivalence on regarding whether I like you right now so the pay-off would be very great for you if you were to expend resources pleasing me and get me into the stable 'liking you' region of my possible

... (read more)
The main reason is that we didn't really talk about it in the thread I based the post on. Other reasons include that I find a lot of the commonly advised signals personally repugnant. I don't mean that I know better than the person doing the advising--quite the contrary, I think that reaction probably disqualifies me from giving good advice about it. But there are some points which are worth adding (e.g. don't talk about your worst bits in your first impression), and those I merely didn't think of. I'll see if I can find a place to work that in. Consider stopping by the discussion section some time; it would have been nice to have this conversation about an earlier draft over there.
This post is good advice for a dating site where all the users are approximately equal in physical attractiveness and status level. Otherwise, most the information becomes irrelevant once your profile readers determine your desirability levels are unmatched. For instance, men wouldn't even read your profile if they think they can get a better looking woman. And I've seen women go through profiles only paying attention to job, pictures and height. More important information for these profiles is status and physical attractiveness orienting information. Finding a match at this level is enough for most people (I'd guess 90%) to message the other person.
If that were true, what's the purpose of having a profile? Why not just post your photo, height, and salary and be done with it? I would expect that to vary significantly based on the number of users available who fit one's age/sex/preference requirements. But regardless of what the percentage is, it seems to me that people who fall into it have no need of this post.
Well, for those few whose status/looks filter you pass.
Then is your complaint that my profile-writing advice is only applicable when people actually read your profile? Because you're right, and I'm not sorry.
Sure, but it doesn't help for those who want to make sure they're maximizing the status/looks of their readers. And for people not getting messaged/messaged back as much as they'd like, should consider improving their displayed status/looks.
As noted, it's worth adding a section on status; I will when I think of what exactly should go in it. But that'll still only matter when people read the profile. The presentation of looks is discussed in the photo section. Actually improving your real-life status and appearance is indeed relevant to your dating chances but beyond the scope of the post.
I can help you write that section if you'd like.
I'd be interested to see anything more you want to write on the subject.
Think I should just make it a new discussion topic?
Yes. I also suggest trying to minimize inferential distance for the folks here, and showing them why we have certain priors.
Yeah, wanna co-write it? I can start it off.
You write one word, and I'll write the next. More seriously, I like to do more top level posting, but I have a massive queue of stuff to write, so it's probably not a good idea to wait on me.
lol, alright.
By all means. Perhaps write a top-level comment to the post about it (so it doesn't get buried at the end of this thread)?
To prove you're an actual person.

Continued from here

As my previous analysis suggests, there are also gender differences in the types of honesty that can be displayed. It's well known that women place relatively more importance on personality traits than men do.

Botwin and Buss (1997) found that:

Across both samples of couples, women expressed more extreme preferences for the personality characteristics of their ideal mate.

When lesbian journalist Norah Vincent dressed up as a man for a book (I harvest some revealing quotes from her here, she had a negative experience with women judging her personality traits when out dating:

On dates with men I felt physically appraised in a way that I never did by women, and, while this made me more sympathetic to the suspicions women were bringing to their dates with Ned, it had the opposite effect, too. Somehow men's seeming imposition of a superficial standard of beauty felt less intrusive, less harsh, than the character appraisals of women.

Since women are more selective about behavior and personality than men, women have somewhat more behavioral latitude than men, similar to how men have more latitude in their appearance (and no, this doesn't mean that women have infinit... (read more)

Given how much you have to say about it, have you considered just writing your own post as a followup? It would be easier to keep track of. :) I've heard about the male/female difference in prioritization of looks/personality, but I hadn't made the connection to the relative importance of different profile content. That's definitely worth noting. I'm wary of a common trap here, though. Broad heuristics are extremely valuable, if and only if no more specific heuristics are available. So, yes, it's nice to have statistical data about all women everywhere ... but if you can find out more about the kind of woman you personally want to date, that's going to be more useful. People who are inclined towards precision and rationality are very rightly inclined to use information from well-analyzed studies over anecdotes of individuals. However, when the anecdote can give very specific information and the study cannot, the tradeoff may not be so simple. To take a trivial example: If you know that Chez X is the most popular and highest-rated restaurant in your city, but a mutual friend tells you that your would-be date really wants to try Cafe Y, which are you going to suggest for the evening out? Okay, now what if a nationwide study concludes that most women like to see movies on dates, but all the women you know in your town prefer going dancing? As the breadth of the study subjects and the breadth of the anecdotal subjects converge, the study will have better data. Somewhere between there and the trivial example, there's a line, and on the trivial example's side of that line, you're better off trusting your friend. Perhaps one of the errors in my post was assuming that people on LW are seeking partners more like the sort of person who posts out on LW, and less like the average OKCupid member sampled on OKTrends.

This post, like my emotional nihilism post, was about a non-technical topic. Like mine, it involved general life advice, described without statistical evidence, because such evidence isn't obviously available. Like my post, it was a compilation of the results of a discussion -- so it isn't one person's opinions, but an aggregation of many people's personal experiences. Both our posts were attempts to summarize and build a LessWrong consensus on an issue in personal life.

If this type of a post is unrepresentative -- if it doesn't reflect a real LessWrong consensus -- then the problem is that the people who disagree with the compilation didn't participate in the earlier discussion.

I don't think this is a bad style of post. I think advice-giving on personal life issues is normal. I'd like us to do more of it here. I'm starting to be very puzzled by the scruples LW people have about ordinary actions.

I'm not sure what the problem is, but the link to the OKCupid post doesn't work-- I had to use google to reread the comments. Unless I missed something, there were more favorable comments than not, and from more people. the post has positive karma, too. As I understand it, there are a number of men on LW who found that a lot of the advice they'd been given by women about dating didn't work for them, and they're touchy about the subject.
Do you mean the link in the original post to the earlier thread? It worked for me just now. What problem did you have? Most of the active discussion I've seen has been about why this is hogwash and shouldn't be posted here (so I appreciate hearing another view). But I only get alerted to comments for threads I'm alread in, so my view is pretty biased. I'm new here; did you get this impression from previous discussion, individual comments over time, or something else? If it's true, I wonder how similar the women-being-asked and women-being-pursued were (e.g. if they were discussing it with their nerdy female friends and then trying to pick women up at clubs, or vice versa). I confess that I take on a charitable view of peoples' goals in romantic pursuit, and also that my idea of "charitable" is pretty close to "assuming it agrees with me." (As it should! Would you trust someone who behaved in ways they didn't recommend?)
If I click on the rightmost link while I'm in Recent Comments, I get which just says in red, "This post doesn't exist". I tried one other post from this discussion in Recent Comments, and got the same result. On the one hand, I do think the majority response was in favor of the post. On the other, there was a strong minority which was a good bit nastier than I'd say is usual for LW. I got that impression from discussion here. And I've just realized that while I've seen a lot about bad dating advice from women to men, I've never seen a clear description of what that advice is. Guys?
I believe that this is a representative article on the view of bad advice. Although contrary to that I've had discussions with female friends where they admit that they like cocky men... but then that women wasn't trying to portray a "nice girl" attitude.
Honestly I think this is the smartest sentence in there: Of course they aren't. Most people don't think much about what they really want, just like they don't think much about who they really are. It's possible that het men and het women are so different that the men aren't also clueless in this regard, but I doubt it. And each set treats the other like its members are stupid about relationships at best, and deliberately conniving at worst. No wonder we get this ridiculous, overblown sense of adversary about dating. : \ This woman thinks the reason men get bad advice is that they're not asking the right questions. I don't agree with everything in that article, but overall I think it's on the right track.
We have to be careful here. We need to qualify the difference between sexually attractive and attractive qualities in a partner. That is the difference between what may make us horny and what we would actually want to live with. I think most het men know quite well what is sexually attractive to them. We have a very simple function to work out (young and shapely). See any top100 girls fhm list in all its monotony. Compare it to the mixture of age ranges/body types you get in this list . The attractive qualities in a partner are more complex and men are probably equally bad at knowing this.
I think that's important to note. It's my impression that, regardless of what gender you are, the kind of person you'd be most eager to have a one-night stand with isn't the kind of person you'd be most eager to marry. The "virgin/whore dichotomy" doesn't apply to just women. I suspect that male attraction is actually more complicated than conventional wisdom would hold, and that attraction to other factors gets attributed to physical appearance. For example, Tina Fey wasn't "hot" until after she became famous and successful. Definitely.
Indeed. So I suppose we could say that identifying attractive personality traits is just as difficult on both sides, and how hard it is for a given person depends on that person's priority mix of physical and personal attractiveness.
I like that link.
Me too. But we're just women, what would we know about how women work. ; )
How much does the average customer know about how to be a successful salesman?
They know whether they're getting good customer service. But I don't particularly agree with the analogy. Men and women should be working with each other, not against each other. I don't tolerate potential partners who treat me otherwise, and I don't have much sympathy for people who do.
I just looked a little closer at the URL you're getting---seems I've confused the system by moving the post from the discussion section and/or changing the title. Hmm. Someone should probably know about that, but I don't know who or how to alert them.
I have noticed that links to Rationality Quotes October in Recent Comments have the same problem for me - the problem is that the r/discussion/ somehow gets inserted between and lw/2tw.
Speaking of Recent Comments, are we ever going to get that thing fixed? It's been broken for something like a few weeks now. (It makes one feel like LW is "ill".)

I disagree with 'fill out the sidebar information.' For instance, one of the pieces of information in the sidebar is star sign. Now, you can say in your answer whether it matters to you, doesn't matter. But it's a straight up warning sign even having answered the question to me. Even if you say it doesn't matter to you, it matters enough that you'd deign to fill it in. I can't take someone who can even semi-believe in star signs seriously.

Similarly, as well as religion, you can fill out your seriousness about it. All the answers look lose/lose to me. I can... (read more)

That's a good point. I meant "fill out as much as you can" as in "anything that's not actively misleading"--which is why, for example, I haven't answered the question about kids. (I might want them, some day, but I don't now, so neither "want" nor "don't want" is correct.) I'll clarify that in the post. Thanks for pointing it out.
Your star sign could let someone know approximately when you were born so they can wish you a happy upcoming birthday.
Huh. I filled out sign because I'm an aggressive completionist and when I see a form I fill it out completely by default.
Me too. [reads grandparent] But I did leave the Drugs, Religion, and Pets fields blank, for very similar reasons. Why the difference? The sign question does have an objective, unquestionable answer (depending on what time of the year I was born), but as someone who used to use illicit recreational drugs (what I guess most people would take “drugs” to mean in that context) but no longer does, doesn't give a damn whether any deity exists, and doesn't have pets because can't be bothered to maintain them but doesn't particularly dislike cats or dogs, none of the possible answers to those other questions would feel right. (And BTW, I do give a non-negligible probability to the month one was born in having a measurable effect in certain situations, but I still answered “but it doesn't matter” because I don't think that's what people will think the question is about, for which we empirically know the answer.)
I agree. Also, I don't see any point putting your salary (unless it's so high that it's a selling point) or your pet preferences, if pets are not a major issue to you.
I put my salary so that people have a realistic expectation of the kinds of outings I can participate in. This helps me avoid the situation where I have to turn down, say, a dinner date, because I cannot afford to pay for it.
When people leave the salary field blank, I wonder why. I am suspicious of people who want me to operate with less information, especially in a context where I can't confirm that this is because of their extensive knowledge of human biases.
I don't specify my salary because if a woman bases her decision on my salary, I don't want to be with her.

Your logic is understandable, but it's the same logic people (particularly women) might use to leave off profile pictures - "gosh, if my scintillating personality won't cut it for Guy X, then I guess I don't want Guy X."

Salary (and looks) can be factors without being dealbreakers. Will I refuse to consider a guy because he's too much taller than me, or isn't currently making any money, or if he declares wooly spiritual beliefs, even if he's otherwise hot/responsible/sane? No. Does failing to disclose these items annoy me? Yes.

For most of us males, I think that looks certainly can be a dealbreaker, and someone who wants to find a male for whom it cannot be a dealbreaker is looking for a very unusual man. Stats on OKCupid are either something about the person that you would enjoy in and of itself, or they're proxies for something about them you'd enjoy. Appearance is, by and large, something you'd enjoy directly, and there's no opprobrium attached to that enjoyment (except possibly in some subcultures I'm not so familiar with, I guess?). Salary is, at best, a proxy for some other trait you'd enjoy, like intelligence, social competence, discipline, or whatever. However, it's a very loose proxy, and most of the things it's a proxy for have better indicators: a picture showing rock hard abs implies discipline better than a salary of $250K; the profile writing itself implies the intelligence level of the writer better than salary. This means that insisting on salary seems to imply that it's a trait, like appearance, that the person would want to enjoy directly, and our culture has many unflattering things to say about someone who primarily wants to enjoy the wealth of their date or partner. So, even for people who make something near the average of incomes in their cohort may leave off their salary, reducing by a bit the information provided to those like you who see it as a minor factor, while greatly reducing the risk of falling for someone who just wants access to their bank account.

primarily wants to enjoy the wealth of their date or partner

just wants access to their bank account

The words "primarily" and "just" here seem to me unwarranted. Things can be important without being the only important thing.

I also think you're displaying little imagination about the usefulness of salary as information. For example, OKC has many questions about (and another sidebar slot for) persons' interests in/preexisting status regarding children. There are questions about marriage, etc. - lifestyle stuff. Salary is a factor in what kinds of lifestyles are available! Somebody who is trying the radical experiment of life off the grid by attempting to live off barter and urban farming without the use of filthy money isn't for me, any more than someone who abhors the institution of marriage and never wants children would be for me. Those lifestyles are not compatible with what I want.

Or to be yet more specific: Currently, I live with roommates who don't expect me to pay rent because I cook tasty food and do some cleaning. This is sort of like being a house spouse without the "spouse" part, and you know what? I like it as much as I thought I ... (read more)

Understood. You've convinced me to put my salary back on my OKC profile.

Book you might be interested in: Home Comforts by a woman who takes all aspects of making a good place to live seriously.
That looks really neat! Wishlisted for later. :)
If under salary someone wrote "Enough to comfortably support a family", would that be enough information for you?
OKC doesn't support that in the sidebar, but supposing it did, that would be... peculiar, but considerably better than leaving it blank. I might ask in a message (if the profile otherwise passed muster) why a description was provided in lieu of a number (unless, hypothetically, descriptions rather than numbers were customary), but as descriptions go it would be very promising.
Just for another data point: As someone who also stated a preference for having that information available, I would find this sufficient. The description would have to be pretty specific, though--the idea is to get a sense of what kind of lifestyle the person's finances permit.
For young people, I doubt that “salary now” is such a strong factor in “kinds of lifestyles available by the time I'd want to start a family”. (Here in Italy, ISTM that most relationships start when people are still in university or younger, when their salary is zero or close to zero, and most people old enough to make more than $20,000/year already are in long-term relationships; I'm guessing it's not the same in America?)
ETA: disregard this comment, it's completely wrong because of my poor knowledge of English. I thought some more and don't understand your point about factors vs dealbreakers. There's no distinction. If including salary on my profile will make more women message me, then salary was a dealbreaker for those women. A factor that doesn't make or break any deals has zero importance.

Let me see if I can rephrase usefully. (I suspect you just aren't using the word "dealbreaker" conventionally.)

Imagine that people who look at your profile are scoring you, with some traits worth points of various amounts (positive or negative). If you've mentioned enough things that earn you points and left out enough things that cost you points, you may get scored high enough that you get a message. Leaving your income off might lose you points, but you could probably make it up in other areas. For instance, I'd estimate that the "point" cost I assign guys on OKC for leaving income blank can be approximately compensated for if they announce that they want to have children someday. The guy who leaves out income but wants kids does about as well with me as the guy who says he makes some modest amount of money and doesn't mention children anywhere.

A dealbreaker is a different thing. It's negative infinity points. It doesn't matter what else you put on there if you also advertise a dealbreaker (there is no corresponding "plus infinity points" here) - it doesn't offset or compensate for positive traits, it renders them irrelevant. For instance, I ... (read more)

I came across a profile once that had a scoring game in the "message me if" field. Specifically, it was a list of traits the author found desireable, numbered by powers of two, and an invitation to send him the sum of the traits which applied to the reader. I was pretty amused by that.
I wonder how many potential matches know enough maths to realize why he used powers of two?
I suspect most of the ones who played the game at all.
I think a better question is, how many knew enough to realize he was using an integer to encode a set, rather than doing a weighting with some things valued exponentially more than others...
I want to marry that person!
Thanks. Sorry. I shoulda thought a little more before making that comment.
Please tell me you were just joking/making a point and you've never actually messaged a stranger on OkC solely to tell them to quit smoking. :-)
I've never actually done this, no.
A dealbreaker is something that on its own automatically rules someone out. A factor is something that swings the overall impression positively or negatively but is not on its own a deciding factor independent of other factors.
Women are welcome to use any sort of logic and accept the consequences, just as I accept the consequences of my own choice. Filtering away many "unsuitable" women at the cost of annoying some "suitable" ones is a tradeoff I'm okay with. Can you argue that including my salary on my profile will make me better off overall, not just with respect to you?
That probably depends on your salary and the details of the preferences that caused you to leave it off (i.e. who exactly you hope to be filtering out/filtering in).
You said in another comment: This describes exactly the type of woman I'd intended to exclude all along. I guess my comment made me sound like I have a bitter hate of "golddiggers", and this wasn't really the intention. Girls who want me to fund them are not necessarily bad girls. They're just not for me.
My two cents: I'd rather date someone who makes about as much money as I do than someone who makes a lot of money. It suggests that our means are about the same, which means our lifestyles are more likely to be compatible. (If this makes me unusual because I wouldn't be comfortable having a rich partner pay for me for everything, well, I don't want to be usual.) I'm curious: Do you also omit other potential references to your financial status in your profile, or just the direct statement of your actual salary?
I have a sentence saying "I make more money than I know what to do with", it's pretty vague. Maybe I'll edit my profile because user pwno has sent me many suggestions saying it's all wrong.
Yeah ... that sentence seems to conflict with your goal of not encouraging golddiggers. :P
The profile also says I have no TV, no fridge, no washing machine, no microwave (which is true) so "more money than I know what to do with" becomes frighteningly ambiguous :-)
Haha, fair. Although my assumption based on the lack of fridge would be "this person does not cook for himself, or else does not use perishable ingredients" which isn't very flattering either. ;)
The weather in Moscow right now is only slightly above freezing, so I keep some perishable products on the balcony. And in summer I sleep there, on some rugs.
Even if you didn't say that, on reading “I make more money than I know what to do with” in a profile with the income field in the sidebar blank would make me think they're very frugal, rather than that they make lots of money (possibly because I'm Generalizing From One Example!).
I leave the salary field blank because I was told that "$250,000-$500,000" seemed obnoxious, and that I should instead signal my income with the words "comfortably successful" in my profile, with a full reveal later. I'm not sure that that's good advice; what do others think? Of course, my profile might be obnoxious anyway. You tell me:
Your profile is hilarious. It reminds me of this. Which is to say, it's sort of hard to take seriously. If the only thing you can think of to cut out of there to be less over-the-top is your income, then I guess leave income out, but I think you'd be better off putting income in and pruning a few of the paragraphs/sentences that you feel are less core to your personality from the text.
Now I'm curious about what it used to be like.
What's worse: leaving it blank, or admitting you're long-term unemployed?
What Alicorn said--it depends on why you're unemployed. I made a choice not to have a job for a while, and at the time my profile just stated that outright and explained my reasons. Besides, there's no option in that field for "no income." The least you can do is the $0-20k bracket, if memory serves. If you have no income, you can perfectly honestly select that option; you're not obliged to explain any further.
Depends on the strength of the rest of the profile. "Incapable of holding a job, due to being riddled with psychological and/or social issues" is about the worst thing I seriously consider as a reason for leaving it blank. I think you could spin your simple dislike of work as being a cool independence thing signaling your nonconformity, rather than an inability, if you wrote it up right. Then including your lack of income would just be consistent with that.
I think I've had my share of this, too. :( Did I ever tell you about the two jobs that I was fired from, one after 3 days and one after five? (definitely not making a good impression on my Internet crush here) (I wonder where my strange urge to make self-depreciating remarks all the time comes from?)


You mean self-deprecating. Self-depreciating would mean devaluing yourself, whereas self-deprecating means ... uh ... devaluing yourself.

... I see why a lot of people get that one wrong.

Monetarily versus socially. Interesting how a single letter difference can carry that nuance
Language is utterly mad, and I kind of love it for that. :)
You can deprecate yourself quickly and then move on to other things. Self-depreciation take time and continued attention.
I don't remember you mentioning them, no. Whatever your past struggles with employment, though, I've certainly got the impression that now you avoid it because you don't like to work, which can be spun as I describe above; past history isn't as relevant.

Concrete Advice #3: Omit all of these: "it's hard to summarize myself" "what should I say here" "I'm contradictory" "I'm nice" "I'm shy until you get to know me" "the first thing people notice is my eyes" "I need [obvious literal things] to live" "if it were private I wouldn't write it here" "you can ask me anything" and explicit suggestions that the reader should date you, even tongue-in-cheek

That advice deserves a prominent sidebar on the OkCupid profile editing page. Most profiles have at least one of those.

Agreed. It was fun to write that list. I asked my OKC-using friends for suggestions, and almost all the responses were duplicates. Yup, that means they're cliches, all right.

This is quite good. You inspired me to rewrite a couple parts of my profile. Your remark about scientology is dead on and to me it is a bug in their system. In my profile I say "I love the outdoors but I do not like camping", which I consider very informative for the reader. About once a month I get a message in my box along the lines of "You and User X both like camping!"

It was very kind of you to offer edits on my Spanish. That paragraph was edited by a native Spanish speaker (from Colombia). Spanish is not one language! I will definitely insert the accents and tildes one of these days.

I've left the "children" field blank, for example, because I don't want them now but might some day, so neither "wants" nor "doesn't want" is correct.

I think this might be a mistake. I usually specify "Doesn't have children" when I do a match search and I'd guess this is fairly common. If you leave this question blank I believe you won't show up for people who are filtering on that search criteria.

I would agree 100% if that were one of the choices. The options are "has 1 child," "has children," "likes children," "dislikes children," and "doesn't want children." The first two are certainly wrong, I don't have a strong enough opinion about children to choose either of the next two, and I haven't made up my mind about the last one yet. (Hmph--I tried several times to make that a bulleted list, using as far as I can tell the syntax in the help, but it didn't work and eventually I gave up.)
I agree the choices aren't ideal but I think "likes children", "dislikes children" and "doesn't want children" all match a search for "Doesn't have children" whereas leaving the question blank or answering that you have children means you won't show up in a search that specifies "Doesn't have children". It's a bit confusing and not a very logical setup but I think that's how it works.
I think you're probably right. That gives me a good reason to answer to it, but I'm still a bit uncomfortable with all the answers. "Don't want" is closest, though.
Particularly not ideal in as much as only 'likes' and 'dislikes' are mutually exclusive among those options. But I suggest that anyone who puts both 'has children' and 'dislikes children' on their profile is being far too honest for their own good. ;)

Would you care to take a crack at what I'm thinking of as "manner vs. matter", with manner being how you talk about your subject matter.

Manner would include vocabulary, grammatical complexity, humor, and probably a bunch of factors I haven't thought of.

OKTrends addresses that to some extent for messages, but not (as far as I've seen) for profiles. Without having tested it with a critic, my expectation would be that the style of writing conveys personality in a relatively subtle way that would come through on the LBL/overview critique. Some specific things would be worth advising against (jokes that fall flat, lack of variety in word choice and sentence structure, etc.) but most would just be a question of taste. I did consider advising good grammar and spelling, but given the intended audience I didn't feel it was necessary.

Does anybody have ideas on how we could test what kind of profiles are effective, without spending unreasonable amounts of effort in methodical trials?

Here's a data point to contribute to this effort: Myself, I try to "show, don't tell" the attributes I value and wish to signal, such as creativity and intelligence. You are welcome to evaluate if I succeed at this: I do get messaged occasionally with references to my profile, and usually also get good responses to my messages.

As to my target group's profiles,... (read more)

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I tried "Your best face": the rating service that tells me just how bad my profile pictures really are. The results were amusing, to say the least.

I definitely need to take and post some better pictures.

I had the problem that my top result on Best Face is a) out of date, and visibly different from my current appearance, and b) a picture which I personally don't like, although friends have told me that they do. (It's the one with the brown scarf.) So I go back and forth on whether to use it or not. ETA: Huh. As I look back through my reports, I notice that all my pictures other than that one also rate higher with women than with men--and the ratings of that picture vary significantly between one report and the other. (Also, I imagine the conference bike picture would have rated higher among geeks if they recognized the other people on the conference bike.) By the way, I'm sure you know this already, but don't rely on being able to keep the painting up as your photo, as it violates site policy.
I think that feature has relatively large sampling errors, making pretty much anything other than the total score not-so-reliable: I included the same picture twice by mistake and (for example) one copy has a large positive “girls 23-30” score and the other one has zero score in the same category. (On the other hand, I've just realised that the report keeps updating, as the differences between the two copies of the same picture are smaller than they used to be.) Also, with a few exceptions the ranking I've got in the result matches the chronological order the pictures were taken, suggesting have become hotter and hotter over time. Or at least that my aesthetic preferences wrt photo portraits have improved.