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How to take the perfect profile picture for online dating, according to science
Hint: Ditch the selfie
 
Not a good look for you.
Not a good look for you. (Facebook.com/Don Jon)

In the world of online dating, it's hard to convince your prospective significant other that you're not a creep if your profile picture is a selfie taken in your ill-lit bathroom. To put your best face forward, here's what surveys, scientific studies, and psychology have taught us about perfecting the profile picture.

Strength in numbers
Before you start taking photos of yourself, grab some friends.

A study published in Psychological Science shows that you seem more attractive when you are in a group. "The Cheerleader Effect" postulates that when people are photographed together, each person starts to look like the average of everyone else around. That composite mental image tends to look hotter than the individual.

Avoiding the selfie is especially important if you're a man. Zoosk, analyzing a sample of about 4,000 subscribers, discovered that men who posted selfies received 8 percent fewer messages than those who didn't.

(Disclaimer: Some data has shown the opposite to be true, so take this with a grain of salt.)

To the left, to the left
A Wake Forest University study determined that photos that showed the left side of the face were viewed as more pleasant than those that showed the right.

You know the saying "windows are the eyes to the soul?" Well, pupils actually dilate when you see something that you like, and constrict when you look at something unsettling. During the study, the subjects' pupils dilated more when they saw the left side of the face.

Scientists believe that this might be because we show more emotion on that side of the face.

Smile (if you're a woman)
An OkCupid analysis of more than 7,000 photos showed that woman who smiled and batted their eyes directly at the camera tended to get the most messages. However, if you are a man, you don't want to look at the camera — and you definitely don't want to smile.

A 2011 study in emotion also showed that men liked smiling images of women that conveyed happiness, while women opted for the unsmiling male images that portrayed pride. Researchers believe that this might have to do with the fact that pride is associated with masculinity, while happiness corresponds to femininity.

Show everything
While clothed of course! But profiles with full body photos received 203 percent more messages than those that showed less, Zoosk reported.

Men may want to consider taking off their shirts. OkCupid found that men who showed off their abs and muscles met about nine out of 10 women they reached out to. It's important to note that the shirtless route worked better for younger men. By age 30, the shirtless did as well as those who were robed.

Unsurprisingly, for ladies, showing off a bit of cleavage was shown to have some success. On average, OkCupid found women who bared some of their breasts made 49 percent more contacts per month than those who covered the goods. However, a reverse age trend was observed: Girls who showed off their breasts at age 18 made 24 percent more contacts, but women who showed off the ladies at age 32 made a whopping 79 percent more contacts.

Do something interesting
OkCupid found that people whose photos portrayed them doing something interesting were more likely to receive messages that led to a real conversation, followed by those who posed with animals and those who showed themselves on their travels. (Photos involving drinking were the most frowned upon.)

According to Zoosk, men whose photos show them in the rugged outdoors receive 19 percent more messages. Women, on the other hand, should stay indoors: Outdoor shots lead to 40 percent fewer messages.

Four or more is the luckiest number
According to 2013 stats compiled by eHarmony, people who had four or more photos on their profile had the most success getting people to initiate conversations online. For the most part, men and women tend to already follow this rule: Women on average have 6.4 photos, while men have 4.2 pictures.

They also discovered that landscape and 3x4 portrait photos were the most appealing to users. Cropping someone out was not only obvious, but a turn-off.

The most important thing is to put at least one picture in your profile. EHarmony claims that individuals who have photos are nine times more likely to get nice messages in their inbox than those who prefer to avoid photographic proof they exist.

 
Michelle Castillo is a freelance writer and editor and a pop culture junkie. Her work has appeared in TIME, the Los Angeles Times and CBS News.

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