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Your Brains on Tinder: Neuroscience Reveals the Irresistible Tinder Picture

By Tom van Bommel
Persuasion Artist

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Our brain holds many secrets. Scientists have made many astounding discoveries on what current brain activity can predict about your future behavior.

Today, we add one more. The research team at ST&T used neuroscience to discover what makes the perfect Tinder picture.

Did you know that, when viewing movie trailers, specific neural markers predict which films will reap commercial success at the box office (Boksem & Smidts, 2015)? Or that brain activity while listening to unknown songs illuminates which artists are soon-to-be chart leaders (Berns & Moore, 2012)? And, of course, specific brain areas are able to predict whether television advertising will open our wallets at the store weeks later (Venkatraman et al., 2015).

This made us ponder on the question: what about people and relationships? Does brain activity also predict next Friday’s date? The answer is: yes it does. And in surprising ways. In this blog, we’ll list our findings into what makes a great digital first impression. It will surely benefit any Tinder user looking for an edge to spice up their profile pictures to get more matches.

ST&T Research conducted this first neuroscientific study into online dating through Tinder. Let’s dig in.

How to measure a Tindering brain: our methodology

In order to measure people’s brain activity on Tinder, we developed a Tinder simulation consisting of 30 pictures. All our participants (14 males, 13 females) had to do, was to swipe left (“wouldn’t date”) or right (“would date”). Each gender saw the same pictures, which allowed us to aggregate average brain activity and amount of swipes for each picture.  

While swiping through the faces of many potential dates, our participants were equipped with a B-Alert X10 EEG headset. This state-of-the-art EEG technology provides a clean and reliable EEG signal with a high level of comfort (Hairston et al., 2014; Ries et al., 2014). Simultaneously, the Tobii X3-120 remote Eye Tracker registered eye movements at a rate of 120 measurements per second.

We collected and combined both data streams using iMotions biometric software. This platform allowed us to isolate brain responses to specific photo areas of interest, in this case the faces of potential dating partners. We used the data to calculate average scores of each picture on:

-    approach motivation (indicated by prefrontal asymmetry)
-    complexity (indicated by the ABM Workload metric)
-    attractiveness (behavior metric; amount of right swipes)

Discovery #1: prefrontal asymmetry predicts dating preference

First of all, we wanted to analyze whether dating preference could be predicted from brain activity. Prefrontal asymmetry is among the most widely established neural patterns signaling approach behavior and positive emotion. And indeed – as expected – prefrontal asymmetry was a solid predictor of attraction. Pictures that succeed in firing up the left side of our prefrontal cortex received more positive swipes.

In male participants, we found a correlation of 0.44 between attraction and prefrontal asymmetry at the theta band. In females, we found a correlation of 0.26 for the same pattern. Interestingly, this correlation only existed when we isolated the brain activity during the time that participants gazed at faces. If we also included brain activity during all other picture elements (buildings, trees, cats), the correlation vanished.

Discovery #2: complexity destroys your hotness

Secondly, we were interested in the effect of visual complexity on attractiveness ratings. In order to establish a brain pattern for visual complexity, we utilized ABM’s EEG algorithm to calculate a Cognitive Workload metric. Then, we compared pictures that were hard to process with the ones that were easier on the brain.

Here’s our most extraordinary discovery: there exists a very strong negative correlation between Cognitive Workload and attraction. Put otherwise: people are much more likely to date others whose pictures are easy to process. Now that’s a golden ticket to a dynamic dating life right there.

Again, this finding was profound in both male and female participants. For women and men, we found a -0.44 and -0.29 correlation respectively

Discovery #3: What exactly makes pictures complex?

(or: 5 incredibly valuable tips for Tinder users)

Alright, it’s certainly interesting that high Workload photos get less attraction from the opposite sex. But what exactly makes these pictures so hard to process for the brain?

In order to answer this definitive question, we performed a qualitative analysis to find common themes among high versus low Workload photos. Here are the 5 factors that stood out most:

1. Color contrast

Low Workload photos often have a lot of contrast between the subject and the background. The brain hates light hair and skin against a light background. Tinder users could darken or lighten the background with a touch of Photoshop to complement their colors and lighting to push themself center stage.

Tinder Research Picture Rule 1
2. Background noise

Backgrounds that are filled with stimuli increase Workload. Tinder users who seek more matches should go for a solid background, without a lot of stuff going on. Backgrounds containing many colors and shapes will suck the subject out of the foreground. Beware of city streets.

Tinder Research Picture Rule 2

3. Other people

Don’t show other people in your primary picture. Go solo. The brain needs to identify in a millisecond who the main subject is.

Tinder Research Picture Rule 3

4. Composition

Our brains show a clear preference for compositions containing the upper third of the subject’s body. Don’t pull the lens too far (whole body) or too close (face only).

Tinder Research Picture Rule 4

5. Facial obstruction

Want a date? Then be sure not to wear sunglasses on your primary picture. And don’t eat a hamburger, cute as it may seem. If you want to attract the brain, nothing should obscure your face.

Tinder Research Picture Rule 5

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