Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science

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Online_Dating_Final-webMany of us enter the dating pool looking for that special someone, but finding a romantic partner can be difficult. With the rise of the digital age, it is no surprise that people have flocked to the Internet as a way to take control of their dating lives and find their “soul-mate.” But is online dating essentially different than conventional dating, and does it promote better romantic outcomes? In this new report, Eli J. Finkel (Northwestern University), Paul W. Eastwick (Texas A & M University), Benjamin R. Karney (UCLA), Harry T. Reis (University of Rochester), and Susan Sprecher (Illinois State University) take a comprehensive look at the access, communication, and matching services provided by online dating sites.

Although the authors find that online dating sites offer a distinctly different experience than conventional dating, the superiority of these sites is not as evident. Dating sites provide access to more potential partners than do traditional dating methods, but the act of browsing and comparing large numbers of profiles can lead individuals to commoditize potential partners and can reduce their willingness to commit to any one person. Communicating online can foster intimacy and affection between strangers, but it can also lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when potential partners meet in real life. Although many dating sites tout the superiority of partner matching through the use of “scientific algorithms,” the authors find that there is little evidence that these algorithms can predict whether people are good matches or will have chemistry with one another.

The authors’ overarching assessment of online dating sites is that scientifically, they just don’t measure up. As online dating matures, however, it is likely that more and more people will avail themselves of these services, and if development — and use — of these sites is guided by rigorous psychological science, they may become a more promising way for people to meet their perfect partners.

Hear author Eli J. Finkel discuss the science behind online dating at the 24th APS Annual Convention.

About the Authors

Editorial: Online Dating:  The Current Status —and Beyond

By Arthur Aron

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I agree wholeheartedly that so-called scientific dating sites are totally off-base. They make worse matches than just using a random site. That’s because their matching criteria are hardly scientific, as far as romance goes. They also have a very small pool of educated, older men, and lots more women. Therefore they often come up with no matches at all, despite the fact that women with many different personality types in that age group have joined. They are an expensive rip-off for many women over 45.

Speaking as someone who was recently “commoditized” by who I thought was a wonderful man I met on a dating site, I find that the types of people who use these services are looking at the wrong metrics when they seek out a prospective love interest. My mother and father had very few hobbies and interests in common, but because they shared the same core values, their love endured a lifetime. When I got dumped because I didn’t share my S.O.’s interests exactly down the line, I realized how dangerous this line of thinking truly is, how it marginalizes people who really want to give and receive love for more important reasons.

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