A Million First Dates

The Atlantic:

Psychologists who study relationships say that three ingredients generally determine the strength of commitment: overall satisfaction with the relationship; the investment one has put into it (time and effort, shared experiences and emotions, etc.); and the quality of perceived alternatives. Two of the three—satisfaction and quality of alternatives—could be directly affected by the larger mating pool that the Internet offers.

At the selection stage, researchers have seen that as the range of options grows larger, mate-seekers are liable to become “cognitively overwhelmed,” and deal with the overload by adopting lazy comparison strategies and examining fewer cues. As a result, they are more likely to make careless decisions than they would be if they had fewer options, and this potentially leads to less compatible matches. Moreover, the mere fact of having chosen someone from such a large set of options can lead to doubts about whether the choice was the “right” one. No studies in the romantic sphere have looked at precisely how the range of choices affects overall satisfaction. But research elsewhere has found that people are less satisfied when choosing from a larger group: in one study, for example, subjects who selected a chocolate from an array of six options believed it tasted better than those who selected the same chocolate from an array of 30.

On that other determinant of commitment, the quality of perceived alternatives, the Internet’s potential effect is clearer still. Online dating is, at its core, a litany of alternatives. And evidence shows that the perception that one has appealing alternatives to a current romantic partner is a strong predictor of low commitment to that partner.

“You can say three things,” says Eli Finkel, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University who studies how online dating affects relationships. “First, the best marriages are probably unaffected. Happy couples won’t be hanging out on dating sites. Second, people who are in marriages that are either bad or average might be at increased risk of divorce, because of increased access to new partners.

Read the whole story: The Atlantic

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