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A Rose is a Rose is a Preference Signal


A rose by any other name is just as sweet, isn’t it? Even virtual roses used in Korean online dating experiments. In a new working paper by main author Soohyung Lee of the University of Maryland, economists studied the impact on preference signaling – signals sent to a select few.
In the study, a major online dating company in Korea organized dating events with 613 participants, half men and half women. Everyone was given two free “virtual roses” that they could attach to an e-mail to a fellow participant, and a few were given 8 virtual roses. Although these roses cost nothing, attaching a rose to an e-mail drastically increased rates of acceptance, even among different “desirability” groups.

Here’s the abstract:
The large literature on costly signaling and the somewhat scant literature on preference signaling had varying success in showing the effectiveness of signals. We use a field experiment to show that even when everyone can send a signal, signals are free and the only costs are opportunity costs, sending a signal increases the chances of success. In an online dating experiment, participants can attach “virtual roses” to a proposal to signal special interest in another participant. We find that attaching a rose to an offer substantially increases the chance of acceptance. This effect is driven by an increase in the acceptance rate when the offer is made to a participant who is less desirable than the proposer. Furthermore, participants endowed with more roses have more of their offers accepted than their counterparts.

So how big was the virtual rose effect?

We find that, overall, sending a proposal with a rose increased the probability that a recipient would accept the proposal by 3.3 percentage points, which corresponds to a twenty percent increase in the acceptance rate. This effect is similar in magnitude to the increase in the acceptance rate by recipients when the dating offer came from a middle rather than bottom desirable sender. This implies that, by sending a rose, a bottom group sender will be almost equally attractive as his or her counterpart belonging to the middle group.