It’s 10:52pm on a Thursday. Having consumed too much caffeine, I lay in bed, tired but unable to drift off into slumber. With a sigh, I turn on the bedside lamp and grab the nearest book: Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.
In Dataclysm, Rudder takes absurdly large datasets from OKCupid.com, the dating website he co-founded, and uses this data to tell the stories of how we behave online and why. It’s fascinating.
The particular chapter I read tonight focuses on how “controversial”, polarizing women get more messages and dates on OKCupid.com than those who are conventionally attractive. For example, if a woman with many piercings and tattoos has an average rating of 3 – comprised of some men rating her a lowly 1 (not a fan of tattoos) and some men rating her a perfect 5 (love the tattoos) – she will, on average, find more success than the bombshell blonde where most guys rate her a 3, 4, or 5. In other words, an average rating is misleading. What’s important is the distribution of ratings.
Wow, that’s weird. Why does that happen?
Who knows. Rudder’s data shows correlation, not causation. Nevertheless, Rudder ventures a few guesses, first focusing on the perceptions of the men who choose to message her:
“Her very unconventionality implies that some other men are likely turned off; it means less competition. Having fewer rivals increases his chances of success.”
This is a solid guess, but probably doesn’t tell the whole story.
Of greater interest, Rudder also proposes that this phenomenon is related to the well-documented pratfall effect (i.e. an individual’s attractiveness increases after committing a small blunder). If that’s even partially true, it would indicate that we often appreciate things more, not because of a lack of flaws, but by their very presence.
To quote Rudder one more time:
“So at the end of it, given that everyone on Earth has some kind of flaw, the real moral here is: be yourself and be brave about it. Certainly trying to fit in, just for its own sake, is counterproductive.”
This was the idea that caught my attention.
We feel such a strong pull towards appearing “normal”, lest we expose ourselves to judgment and ridicule from others. Yet here we are with a case study demonstrating the triumph of the unconventional. Perhaps this call to uniqueness carries over into other areas of life as well? Or maybe it’s an isolated case in the wacky world of online dating.
It’s an idea worth exploring.
Photo Credit: Enrico Policardo