Online dating eye tracking study reveals that men look, women read

This eye tracking study of online dating sites provides insights and tips for those interested in online dating as well as the online dating industry itself. It was conducted at local San Francisco café by user experience research firm AnswerLab, in partnership with Tobii, using a Tobii X1 Light Eye Trackers attached to a laptop. One of the findings of the study was that men and women look at dating sites differently.


Internet dating has exploded over the past decade and is now a popular way to find dates, form romantic relationships and meet partners. But how much do we know about how we act as “consumerEye Tracking Study Tobii X1 Light Eye Tracker Laptop Answerlabs” as we look at dating sites to find the perfect match? Do men and women look at them differently? What should singles posting their profile online think about? What should the dating site industry think about? To shed some light over this, user experience research firm AnswerLab, in partnership with Tobii Technology, conducted an eye tracking study at a local San Francisco café.

Research objectives

The AnswerLab and Tobii teams wanted to understand what information people find most compelling when viewing an online dating profile:

  • What kind of content is valued when deciding whether someone is a good match?
  • When viewing someone’s profile, what areas do users attend to most?

As part of this research, they also wanted to evaluate the feasibility and efficiency of field-based eye-tracking research.

Field-based eye tracking using live intercept

AnswerLab researchers conducted 39 in-person sessions, each lasting approximately 15 minutes, at a café located in San Francisco. Thirty-nine participants (18 female, 21 male) viewed two sample profiles from two different online dating sites (Match and eHarmony) on a laptop screen. Participant feedback and gaze behavior was collected during each session using the Tobii X1 Light Eye Tracker attached to the laptop.

Eye Tracking Study Tobii X1 Light Eye Tracker Laptop AnswerlabResearchers recruited for a mix of ages and ethnicities using a live intercept approach. The following analysis focused on participants who stated they would be interested in dating people of the opposite gender. Male participants viewed female profiles and female participants viewed male profiles. Similar profile data and information was displayed across the two different sites (Match and eHarmony). The site order was rotated across participants. Participants viewed each profile for as long as they would normally and then closed the browser window. Each profile was shown for a maximum of 2 minutes.

User needs and behavior – men vs. women

The study showed that women are more careful consumers than their male counterparts; they spend more time evaluating a potential partner's profile. Women spent nearly 50% more time than men in assessing if someone’s profile is a match.

Men, on the other hand, tend to focus on the photo. Not only do they spend less time evaluating profiles than women, they spend more of their time assessing a potential partner's picture. Men used up to 65% more of their time viewing the profile’s photo when assessing a match.

While both genders stated that photos were helpful, gaze behavior indicate that male participants (heat map to the left) spent relatively more time viewing the photo images, then women (heat map to the right).

Eye Tracking Study Heat Map Match Males Eye Tracking Study Heat Map Match Females
Male particpants looking at Match profile Female participants looking at match profile

Download the research report for further detail.

Effect of layout & design – Match vs. eHarmony

The layout of the profile page affects viewer consumption and overall impressions of the page. For instance, a profile that showcased personality at the top of the page was perceived as more personal, whereas a profile that prominently displayed a list of traits was perceived as more business-like.

Gaze behavior indicated that certain content distracted viewers. Images captured attention early on when viewing page and ads on the right panel (gaze plot to the left) and cluttered top navigation distracted many (gaze plot to the right).

Eye Tracking Study Gaze Plot eHarmony Male Eye Tracking Study Gaze Plot Match Male
Male participant looking at eHarmony profile Male participant looking at Match profile

More insights related to the effect of layout & design can be found in the research report.

Advice for singles posting a profile online

Choose photos wisely: Men and women noticed the photos early on and found them compelling. Consider that the type of image you choose can significantly impact viewer’s perceptions of you. The type of image on a site has been shown to affect user perceptions across various AnswerLab studies.

Consider what information to emphasize when deciding what site to use: Different website designs can showcase different aspects of a person. For example, eHarmony can place more emphasis on your written voice, and Match can better highlight core demographic data.

Regardless of site, be sure to fill out the open-ended questions: Viewers will be better able to get a sense of your character, voice, and what you are looking for in a date. This, in turn, could help attract the interest of a better match.

Advice for dating sites

Implement a streamlined navigation: Avoid too many calls-to-action in the top navigation that can confuse users and distract them from the main profile and its key interactive elements.

Highlight key profile information: Reduce clutter and streamline key profile information (name, location, etc.) to make it easily discoverable.

Carefully weigh your monetization strategies with the user experience: Minimize the disruptions your advertising and subscription models have upon profile viewing. Assess the placement, frequency, and style of ads or upsells to reduce distractions and enhance effectiveness.

Why eye tracking and Tobii?

"We easily intercepted people at Café Venue, a local San Francisco café, and by using the new Tobii X1 Light Eye Tracker on a laptop, we quickly saw how they visually processed online dating profiles on two popular websites," said Sal Becerra, research director at AnswerLab. "In just eight hours, we were able to track nearly 40 participants, and we walked away with some great insights to share with both those interested in online dating and the online dating industry itself. Because the system is so portable and easy to use, we can take it almost anywhere to do high-quality eye tracking research in the field."