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Romance is all about pushing the right buttons; It might be Valentine's Day, but if you're looking for love online, you'll need more than simple romance. Welsh psychologist Martin Graff argues why humour is the real key to the dating game.

Byline: Martin Graff

ONLINE dating is commonplace. There are dating websites which cater for almost any demographic group.

For example, there are the usual dating sites for singles as well as those which cater for people in uniform, people from various ethnic groups, people who perceive themselves to be ugly, in addition to sites for people who desire extra-relationship affairs. The fact that the business of online dating is so successful is evidence enough that such a system of dating works.

But what really goes on in online dating? How can we flirt and form relationships online, and how do we try to make ourselves attractive to potential dating partners? Flirting face-to-face involves behaviour such as eye contact, hair tossing, touch, and flirtatious speech.

For flirting to occur online, these types of behaviour need to be recreated in some way.

Researchers have looked at how people flirt online compared to face-to-face and the results suggest that even though we cannot be seen, our bodies are still important.

In other words, flirting is still possible because we can provide descriptions of our behaviour.

An investigation which looked at nonverbal behaviour and online substitutes, such as use of screen names, emoticons and acronyms, suggested that a person's body plays a crucial part in online or cyber-flirting.

Those who flirted successfully online were more capable of portraying their body through text coupled with the use of acronyms, emoticons and speech and laughter included in the text.

However, are the gender differences which are characteristic of face-to-face flirting also found online? Psychologists such as David Buss suggest that in evolutionary terms, women's bodies are important and need to be fertile and healthy, whereas men need to display dominance and the ability to contribute resources (such as money or status). Indeed, there is much evidence to support the view that males rate physical attractiveness higher than females, whereas females rate physical dominance and status higher.

This differential emphasis is reflected in the way we flirt. Women flirt by using signals such as laughing and touching, whereas men are more likely to flirt by indicating dominance and status for example wearing expensive clothes. In personal ads, men are more likely to say they are looking for attractiveness and portray themselves as wealthy and successful, whereas women are more likely to say they are looking for wealth and success and describe themselves as attractive.

Online flirting also involves mutual disclosure of information. We disclose more personal information to people we like, and we tend to like people who disclose personal information to us.

According to some researchers, high self-disclosure is almost a necessary prerequisite to effective online interaction. For instance, it is unlikely that anybody engaging in an online liaison would talk for very long about the weather. And in a survey of 75 respondents, many reported sharing secrets, discussing personal problems and sexual preferences within days of starting an online liaison. Interestingly however, women tended to be slower disclosers than men.

Both men and women said they desire a good sense of humour in a dating partner, and this is equally true in online liaisons. But yet again, there are gender differences.

Imagine you are in a situation in which you are choosing between two potential dating partners. In all respects they are equal; equally physically attractive, intelligent, interesting, friendly, and so on. There are only two differences.

Person A is great at making you laugh, and you think they are very funny. However, they don't laugh that much when you joke around. They listen attentively, but when you joke around you rarely get more than a smile from them.

Person B laughs at all your jokes. They obviously think you are very funny. However, you don't find their humour all that funny. You don't find them offensive and you get their jokes, but they rarely make you laugh.

Which person do you choose? Even though males and females say they find sense of humour desirable, there is some doubt as to whether men are necessarily attracted to funny women, suggesting that males and females understand the term a 'good sense of humour' differently.

An investigation into humour production versus humour receptivity found that men preferred women who were receptive to their humour, whereas women valued humour production.

Furthermore, in mixed sex dyadic conversations, it has been found that the amount of laughter a woman produces is a better indicator of their interest in dating than amount of laughter from a man.

Geoffrey Miller from the University of New Mexico argues that the capacity to appreciate and produce humour derives from the area of sexual selection. Those individuals who carry better genes and are more creatively intelligent, are consequently more able to produce humour. So humour is an indication of intelligence. As a result, people prefer partners who are funny, because this will give their offspring superior genetic benefits.

Dr Martin Graff is Reader and Head of Research in Psychology at the University of Glamorgan HEALTH: PAGE 26&27 SURVEY SHOWS MUSIC REALLY IS THE FOOD OF LOVE...

A CHART-topping track by Leona Lewis is the UK's most played "love" song, according to figures compiled for Valentine's Day. Love It When You Call is the second most-played track, according to PPL, which analysed detailed data for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, a separate study by royalty collection firm PRS suggested a rival collection of favourite lovesongs has emerged over the last year.

Her 2007 single Bleeding Love tops a list of recordings played in public, including radio and shops, featuring the word love in the title. Spiller and Sophie Ellis Bextor's single Groovejet (If This Ain't Love) ranked third in the list.

Its study found that Halo by songstress Beyonce was favourite amongst romantics in the UK during 2010.

Figures released by airplay royalties body PPL show that one in 15 songs given a public airing has a name featuring "love" or variations. "Love truly is, and always has been, the subject which inspires much great music," said Jonathan Morrish, PPL's communications director.

He added: "It is the most emotive subject and one which has inspired musicians through the ages." The Feeling's 2006 song The tune beat Taylor Swift's Love Story and upbeat track She's So Lovely by Scouting for Girls in a chart of the most frequently played love songs of the year, it claimed.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 14, 2011
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