Posted on June 19, 2019

Racial Preferences in Online Dating: Are You Making it Easier for Yourself or Shooting Yourself in the Foot?

Michael Thai and Fiona Kate Barlow, Society for Personality and Social Psychology, June 14, 2019


{snip} In fact, the reverse is true. The explicit communication of racial preference is common on online dating profiles, especially within the gay community. Such statements either focus on what people want (such as “Whites only”) or on what people don’t want (such as “No Asians”). These statements obviously have a negative psychological impact on members of the groups being excluded, but they raise additional questions as well.


In our first experiment, we assigned same-sex attracted male participants to view a dating profile that either included a disclosure of racial preference (“No Asians or Blacks”) or did not mention a racial preference. {snip}

Our results showed that the owner of a dating profile who disclosed a racial preference was considered more racist, less attractive, and less dateable than the owner of a dating profile who did not specify a racial preference. Participants also reported being less personally willing to befriend the person, have sex with him, or date him. Surprisingly, these effects emerged even for participants who had told us up front that they didn’t think having racial preferences in dating was “racist.”

We then replicated the experiment and found the same results when the disclosure of racial preference was framed in a different way (i.e., “White guys only”). In a final experiment, we demonstrated that it did not matter whether the disclosure of racial preference was absolute (such as “White guys only”) or soft (“prefer White guys”). Participants rated the owners of dating profiles who expressed either form of racial preference less favorably than owners of profiles that did not include a racial preference.

{snip} Thus, not only do explicit racial preferences make those who are excluded feel bad; they also make the person who expresses them look bad. If the goal of using online dating sites is to maximize one’s dating prospects, the take home message from this research is clear – think twice before openly disqualifying entire racial groups when dating online.

For Further Reading:

Thai, M., Stainer, M. J., & Barlow, F. K. (2019). The “preference” paradox: Disclosing racial preferences in attraction is considered racist even by people who overtly claim it is not. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology83, 70-77.