The online dating website OkCupid has performed a statistical analysis of the photos their users post, in order to study patterns. Which types of photos result in the most dates, for which types of people? Does it help to show off your body, or to look interesting? How do users' representation of themselves change as they age? You can view the results here.
For example, if you're a man, does posting a photo showing off your totally ripped 6-pack abs help generate responses? The answer is yes, but the effect declines dramatically with age, as presumably do the abs -- by age 31, a man's photo showing abs has nearly the same effectiveness as any photo of the man with a shirt on; but at age 19 an ab photo is more than twice as effective. Even more interesting are the results that contradict conventional wisdom about how online dating works -- for example, conventional wisdom says that you should use a high-quality camera, not a webcam or cell phone, to take your picture. But the data show that better quality pictures aren't more effective -- in fact, self-shot cell phone/web cam photos in general are more successful than those shot by someone else. Most interestingly, the canonical "MySpace Shot" (a photo taken of oneself by holding the camera above one's head and gazing coyly into it) is "the single most effective photo type for women." And not just a little more popular -- the MySpace Shot DESTROYS all other contexts analyzed by OkCupid (the other contexts were "in bed," "outdoors," "travel photo", "having fun with friends," "doing something interesting," "drinking alcohol," and "posing with an animal").
It's not often that we get a look at the data behind online dating success. If you're looking for a fun read on a dreary Friday afternoon, check out The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures to learn what actually works. For the record, I met my girlfriend via OkCupid, and there were no abs nor MySpace Shots involved, so I guess there's still hope for the rest of us.
Further reading: Online Dating Site Reveals Rules for "First Contact" Derived From Data; and the OkCupid Blog.