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Are you "Hot Or Not"?

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Research has established that physical attractiveness is the biggest determinant of success in the online dating market. What traits make one more or less attractive? HotOrNot ( provides a unique forum for an experiment to answer this question. The site displays pictures of people who viewers rate on a scale of 0 (not) to 10 (hot). Once the viewer rates the picture, the page refreshes with a new picture to rate as well as data (average rating and the number of votes cast) for the previous image. The user only see how others rated a person after the user rates the photo. The over 25 million pictures on HotOrNot are rated from more than 12 billion votes. The website does not provide demographic information on who is voting, or on the models, although a model may attach a short statement to their photo. Anecdotal evidence from using the site suggests that curvy, thin females with revealing clothing tend to receive higher ratings, while handsome, physically fit men seem to receive higher than average ratings.

We developed an experiment to test whether subtle changes in one's look could have a significant effect on one's attractiveness rating on HotOrNot. We used three male and three female college-aged models, and took a variety of photos of the models, holding constant the background, lighting, pose, and clothing. The first picture is a control photo. For each subsequent photo we changed one characteristic of the model.

The variables tested, some of which were used for only one sex, fall into three categories. The variables are listed below by category with the prop or cue in parentheses. All of the treatments (italicized below) are easily noticeable, however, the information viewers infer is subjective.

Lifestyle: drinker (holding beer); religious (holding cross keychain); smoker (holding cigarette); musician (holding guitar); tattoo (front/side of neck). Fashion: no makeup (no cosmetics); cleavage (wearing revealing shirt); hat (wearing cap); success (wearing necktie); intelligence (wearing eyeglasses). Social competition: girl (female seated next to model); guy (male seated next to model); married (wearing wedding ring).

All 66 photos were put on HotOrNot for several weeks, during which the photos accumulated more than 300 votes on each female photo, and between 100 and 200 votes on each male photo. The website shows pictures randomly, so it is extremely unlikely that any viewer would see more than one of our pictures. We estimated separate OLS equations to explain female and male ratings (0-10), with a dummy variable to account for each treatment and model. Preliminary model statistically significant coefficients (at the 10% level or better) are in boldface type:

Female rating = 9.22 - 4.84female2 - 1.03female3 - 5.33beer + O. 13cross

- 0.27girl - 1.1no_makeup - 0.33guy - 0.53guitar - 0.47ring

+ 0.13cleavage - 0.73cigarette - 0.77eyeglasses - 0.60tattoo

+ [epsilon]. ([R.sup.2] = 0.95)

Male rating = 6.17 + 1.45male2 + 0.02male3 - 0.87beer + 0.40cross + 0.50girl

+ 1.03hat + 1.17guitar + 0.37ring + 0.47cigarette - 0.47necktie

+ 1.83tattoo + [epsilon]. ([R.sup.2] = 0.52)

Holding a glass of beer has a negative effect for both sexes. Smoking, having a tattoo, and holding a guitar are all positive for males, but negative for females. Most surprising is that the revealing shirt for females was not significant and our success signal for males (wearing a necktie) had a negative effect.

These results are based on HotOrNot website users and may not be the effects found in the general public. The experiment still provides interesting information and topics for future study. Results from an expanded study (being planned) could provide practical information for individuals hoping to increase their attractiveness, at least on online dating websites.

Published online: 23 July 2008

M. W. Baxter

Department of Economics, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400182, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4182,



D.M. Walker ([mail])

Department of Economics and Finance, College of Charleston, 5 Liberty Street, Charleston,

SC 29424, USA

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Title Annotation:ANTHOLOGY
Author:Baxter, Matthew W.; Walker, Douglas M.
Publication:Atlantic Economic Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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