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Looking your best: a new perspective on that profile photo

Little known online dating service OKCupid made headlines last week, when it released the results of an analysis of over 7,000 profile photos that have been uploaded to the site over the last couple of years. They wanted to see whether there was a link between the type of photo that was posted and the interest that photo generated, measured by the number of messages the person received.

They looked at images of both men and women, noting facial attitude, such as whether they were smiling or not; the context of the photo, such as whether it was an indoor or outdoor shot; and how much skin was showing. The OkCupid team excluded the most and least attractive images so they could concentrate on the photo factors, rather than natural looks of the subject.

The surprising results call into question some of the enduring myths about what kind of photo is most appealing, and provide some practical advice for singles who are trying to get noticed.

Here are a few of OkCupid's findings:

Smiling is not necessarily the best way to go. OkCupid's data indicated that women received a better response when they made a 'flirty face' instead of just smiling. However, smiling is still better than not smiling for women. Men's photos are most effective when they look away from the camera and don't smile.

The DIY Photo
Self-shot and webcam photos (which OkCupid refers to as the 'MySpace shot') are surprisingly successful for both men and women. In fact, OkCupid found that "the MySpace Shot is the single most effective photo type for women."

Skin or no skin?
In a finding that is perhaps the least surprising, OkCupid says that showing a little skin can be helpful. In particular, the 'Cleavage Shot' is very successful for women, drawing 12.9 new contacts per month, or 49% more than average. A little skin can help men as well – if they have the body for it. "If you're a guy with a nice body, it's actually better to take off your shirt than to leave it on," OkCupid recommends.

The Mystery Photo
Surprisingly, OkCupid found that it doesn't make much of a difference if you show your face or not. "We found that all other things being equal whether you show your face really doesn't affect your messages at all," the site explains.

Indoors or Outdoors?
OkCupid found that what you show yourself doing in your photo can affect the number of connections you make. But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be photographed hiking in the woods or sailing your yacht. When it came to ranking the quality of connections as opposed to quantity, the site found that the top three photo contexts for both men and women were: 1) doing something interesting; 2) playing with or posing with an animal; and 3) any kind of travel photo.

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