That's what researcher Jeffrey Hancock, PhD, of Cornell University's department of communication, and his fellow researchers say they found.
They studied 80 online daters in New York City and found that most -- 81% -- fibbed in their online profiles about height, weight, and/or age.
The lies generally weren't whoppers, but they also weren't innocent mistakes, according to the daters' own confessions.
Basically, the daters tried to make themselves sound good, but not ridiculously good.
As Hancock's team put it, "participants balanced the tension between appearing as attractive as possible while also being perceived as honest."
The study appears in April's edition of Proceedings of Computer/Human Interactions.
True or False?
The daters were evenly split between heterosexual men and women.
They had posted profiles on at least one of four popular dating web sites: Match.com, Yahoo Personals, American Singles, and Webdate.
First, the researchers asked the daters how accurately they had reported their height, weight, and age in their online dating profiles.
Next, the researchers measured the daters' actual height and weight. They also checked the daters' age on their driver's licenses.
The study shows that weight was the most common fudge factor, followed by height and age.
Here are the percentages of daters who didn't measure up to (or exceeded) their profiles:
- Weight: nearly 60% inaccurate by 5 or more pounds
- Height: 48% inaccurate by more than half an inch
- Age: nearly 19% different from age on license On average, the daters were 5 to 6 pounds heavier; a third of an inch different in height; and about five months different in age than their profiles claimed. Despite their postings, the daters really were:
- Weight: 20.4 pounds lighter to 35 pounds heavier
- Height: 1.75 inches shorter to 3 inches taller
- Age: 3 years younger to 9 years older.
Women tended to underreport their weight; men tended to inflate their height.
The daters generally knew they hadn't told the truth, the study shows.
Noticeable or Not?
Most daters' online profiles weren't very far from reality.
That may be because the daters knew they would eventually meet someone face to face who had seen their profile.
"Many of these deceptions would be difficult to detect face-to-face," write the researchers.
But there were "a few extreme lies," Hancock's team says, including profiles of daters professing a 35-pound difference, a three-inch height difference, or an 11-year age difference from reality.
Those cases are "rare but extreme lies" that would be "highly salient and memorable" on a date, the researchers write.
"This may be one reason that people believe lying is so rampant in online dating, especially since these extreme lies are more likely to be circulated," say the researchers.
SOURCES: Hancock, J. Proceedings of Computer/Human Interaction, April 2007. News release, Cornell University News Service.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang