Signaling in Online Dating

Jasbina Ahluwalia asks Paul Oyer, author of Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating: In terms of the economic principles, I love how you mentioned some already.

Any other economic principles that you can share with our audience, some of which will include economists like yourself, that they can really start to look at that principle and apply it to this whole dating arena in a different light?



Paul Oyer

In order to apply certain ideas from economics, you need a little help from the dating site or an outsider.

Signaling in Online Dating: Verifying Details

For example, one thing that would be nice would be if dating sites helped us by verifying people’s weight, age and salaries. There are a couple foreign websites that do that.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to apply these principles without some help from the dating site.

Signaling in Online Dating: Cheap Talk

A really good example where one dating site helped some people apply it is the economic concept of signaling.

This is a very important idea in economics and in certain contexts. It doesn’t apply in every context, but once in a while you can find a place to apply it.

The simple idea is, how can I take my statement that is otherwise cheap talk and make it credible? How does signaling work?

We want to think about ways that I can separate myself from those who are lying and trying to look more like me, but there’s no way of knowing who’s who.

Signaling in Online Dating: Separation

An example would be if I write an email to a woman and I say, “Hey, I saw your profile. It looks like we might hit it off. Let’s get together.” That’s just cheap talk. I could be sending hundreds of those identical emails.

The term, “I bet you say that to all the guys or girls,” has been around a lot longer than online dating. That’s just basically saying that’s cheap talk.

Signaling in Online Dating: Roses

How do I turn my cheap talk credible? There was a dating site in Korea that helped this.

They said over a certain period of time, everyone could send as many messages as they wanted to try to initiate dates. They only had two that were called “virtual roses.”

You would send them and they were basically credibly signaling to the other person that, “Hey, I’m very interested in you and you’re one of at least two of the most interesting people to me that I’ve seen on this site.” They only get to send that special message to two people.

Signaling in Online Dating: Job Search

I think the job market would be a great place to apply this same idea on or something.

If they had a way of saying only one person could spend one virtual rose per month on an employer, saying, “Hey, you’re the company I really want to work for and I can only give this to one company at a time, so it must be true.”

In the case of the Korean dating site, it worked very well. It increased the probability of someone responding quite dramatically. It was especially effective among people who were moderately attractive.

The dating site was able to figure out the most popular people. Take the example of the prettiest woman on the site. If she gets one of these virtual roses, she thinks, “Oh yes, but of course everyone is attracted to me.”

If they were sent to people who were moderately attractive, it had a huge effect because these people were getting a lot of messages.

Signaling in Online Dating: Credibility

This put a lot of credibility behind it. Not every website is going to do this, so you have to think about your own ways of signaling.

Signaling in Online Dating: Personalization

I always felt that when I would send a message, in order to convey that I was actually interested, I would make sure there was a little bit of personalization in my message.

Instead of saying, “Hey, I really like your profile. Let’s get together,” which seems to be the most popular response, I would at least add a few lines about some things that we had in common.

I would use something to show that I had actually thought it through and that I was interested in them beyond just fishing for a date. That’s one way to apply signaling.

Hopefully, someday companies will be a little more creative with that idea in the job market.


Tell Us:

How will you be signaling in online dating to capture the attention of your potential next date? Drop us a line in the comments section below.


The above is an excerpt from Jasbina’s interview with Paul Oyer

The entire interview transcript is at: Dr. Paul Oyer Interview – Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating

Listen to the entire interview on: Intersections Match Talk Radio – Jasbina’s Lifestyle Show

Listen to the entire interview on Blog Talk Radio: Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating

Listen to the entire interview on iTunes