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OKCupid questions


I stopped back by OKCupid again recently, after about three years away from it, and was reminded all over again how impossible I find it to answer most of their questions.

Here are some made-up examples of the types of questions that bug me.

Some questions have a huge number of built-in and unquestioned assumptions:

How old do you want your spouse to be when the two of you have your third child together?

  1. 25
  2. 26

Some are really vague:

Are people good?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Some provide a range of answers that are nonetheless too specific:

Do you like animals?

  1. Yes—wombats are the coolest thing ever.
  2. Sometimes, but only when their little wings are flapping.
  3. No, because my boat was once capsized by one.

Some ignore the fact that different people might have two diametrically opposed reasons for an answer:

Is President Obama the best U.S. President ever?

  1. Yes
  2. No

The possibility of different reasons for a given answer wouldn't be an issue except that the system also asks you to say how important it is to you that your ideal match give a particular answer. It's very important to me that my ideal match not say "No, because he's too liberal," but not at all important to me that my ideal match not say "No, because he's not liberal enough" or "No, because I'm not an American and don't keep track of your Presidents enough to have an opinion," or "No, because ____ was the best," or various other answers. So I end up saying that my ideal match's answer is irrelevant—which is true inasmuch as the only thing I might care about is the reason for their answer.

Another example of something similar: an actual OKC question (I don't have the specific phrasing handy) asks which is bigger, the sun or the Earth? If taken literally, that seems to me to be a silly question—does anyone believe that the Earth is literally physically bigger than the sun?—so I can easily imagine people answering whimsically or metaphorically (e.g.: "The Earth has a higher population" or "The Earth is a whole wide world to explore" or something). I'd probably be dubious about anyone who would answer "the Earth" in the literal sense, but might really like someone who would give that answer non-literally.

Anyway, the most frequent thing that bugs me about most of the questions is that there's generally no "it depends" answer. Like, questions of the form "What if your SO asked you to do X?"—I dunno, how important is it to them? Is that "always do X" or "do X once" or somewhere in between? What about doing partial X, or alternating X with Y? And so on.

Oh, and here's an actual example from the site:

Imagine that you come home to find a partner pouring red wine all over a stranger's naked body and then licking it off. Which, if any of the following, would bother you most?

  1. The spilled wine.
  2. The cheating.
  3. The fact that I was not invited to join in.
  4. Actually, this would not bother me.

Fun question, and it allows for a range of answers, but it leaves out most of the most important pieces of information that I would need in order to give an answer. Like: Is the wine staining the gorgeous Persian rug? (I don't have such a rug in real life, but this is a hypothetical situation.) And: What kind of wine is it exactly? And: Did I know about this in advance? And: Is the stranger hot? And: Was I saving that wine to pour all over another partner's naked body? And: Has my partner checked on the stranger's STD status? And: Is the stranger alive and conscious and consenting? And: Am I really not invited to join in? And: Is the other person I brought home to fool around with invited to join in as well? And: Was I planning to watch a movie in that room that evening?

Of course, I can just skip the questions that I can't answer. But I think you can only skip n questions in a row before it requires you to answer one.

I should probably create and post some questions of my own, questions with a dozen answers to choose from, like "Not sure" and "It depends" and "Interesting question; let's discuss it" and "I reject the premises of this question" and "Maybe" and "Sometimes" and "Partially" and "Somewhat" and "All of the above" and "Some but not all of the above" and "Yes, but this answer is misleading" and "I've always had a hard time making up my mind about that" and "Only if the llama were wearing overshoes."


But I think you can only skip n questions in a row before it requires you to answer one.

Nope. I've skipped oodles of them. (And usually opted to consider my Ideal Match's answer irrelevant for exactly the reasons you give.)

Interesting. I recently hit a question, after about three consecutive skips, that had no skip button; I even tried logging out and logging back in, and waiting a couple of days, but it kept giving me that same question and wouldn't let me skip it. I eventually gave a basically random answer just so I could get past the question.

So I assumed that was a limit on number of skipped questions in a row, but if there is no such limit, then maybe it was just a glitch.

Your clarification questions for that last example are GREAT.

Hmm. I've never hit a question it wouldn't let me skip, but it's also been a couple months since I last checked in there. It's possible that that's changed?

Hmm. Looking around a bit more, it looks like there are specific questions that can't be skipped. One possible explanation is given over here, though I don't think that's official.

Yes, there are specific questions that can't be skipped, as it looks like you've already figured out. I think last time I did a lot of OK Cupid questions, they were tending to be the more sciencey ones?

Posting your own questions is hard — if you post one and it gets rejected (e.g. on the grounds of being too similar to another of the 5 million or whatnot questions out there), I believe you only have one (or two?) more chance(s?) to post a question. If you're not liking their questions in general, it might not be the best solution.

I tend to do a lot of checking all options that any sane person might ever check, and then giving things low priorities. But I'm also not actively looking.

Red wine example rocks — at least with your additions. And yeah, I've definitely noticed these problems, too.

Ok, I have never used OKCupid, but I did once try to set up an account at eHarmony to see if it is really a Christian dating service in disguise. (Yep, I think it is.) So I have no direct experience. My comments are based on psychometric methods and may be completely off the mark.

The idea behind forced-choice questions is not necessarily to get the fullest (most complete/most correct) answer from the subject. Sometimes the underlying predictive methods don't care at all about that, but instead depend solely on the answer given out of the choices given. Sometimes the best questions are the hardest to answer correctly, or make the subject the most upset. (I have some examples of this sort of testing in diagnosis.)

So that may be relevant.

However, I did notice that you said something about making questions up, which--if that is what users are allowed to do--likely means that the questions are just junk and you're doomed to each questioner's unstated assumptions. Alas, the questioner probably doesn't have conscious awareness of the assumptions present. If you are looking for someone a bit more self-aware/reflective, you'd be better off sorting people by the average of the number of answers to choose from that they provide to their questions. (That last sentence seems off to me, but I think you know what I mean.)

Brainwane and Jillian (re example): Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Shmuel and Jillian: Aha! Thanks for the explanations.

Jillian: Yeah, sometimes I check all but one of the items (to eliminate people I really really don't want anything to do with) and then mark it as mandatory. It's possible that that messes with my scores, though, given the weighting that mandatory gets; maybe I should do what you're doing and give those questions low marks.

Allogenes: Yeah, OkCupid is different from other online-dating services. Their questions mostly come from the users; you have to take a brief easy quiz to ensure that you've read their basic guidelines on what the questions should be like, and as Jillian noted there are correctional mechanisms built into the system for bad questions, but that still leaves room for an awful lot of questions and answers that are just weak. And sadly, I think you can't supply more than four or five possible answers to a given question.

Also, OKC has this system whereby, after you give your own answer to a given question, you indicate what your ideal match's response to the question would be, and how important it is to you that they match. Then the system does a bunch of number-crunching. It's a very mathy kind of place, which is why I thought that trying it out might be an interesting experiment. (That and various friends' success stories.)

They have an FAQ page about how they calculate match scores; if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's worth a look. They also have a blog in which they do statistical analysis of trends and answers to questions and such.

My computer routinely shuts down or otherwise freezes when I attempt any online dating service services. I think it's a sign. But, re: wine question. It better be mid-price wine and super-hot stranger or there's gonna be some butt kicking.

It will have a different taste and the colour would not be very nice.Use white wine.

[This was clearly comment spam for a wine-related website, but I was amused by it, so I'm allowing it, sans URL and email address. —Jed]

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