The Scientific Flaws of Online Dating Sites Scientific American
By Aaron Smith and Maeve Duggan One in ten Americans have used an online dating site or mobile dating app themselves, and many people now know someone else who uses online dating or who has found a spouse or long-term partner via online dating. General public attitudes towards online dating have become much more positive in recent years, and social networking sites are now playing a prominent role when it comes to navigating and documenting romantic relationships.
Online dating is also relatively popular among the college-educated, as well as among urban and suburban residents.
Attitudes towards online dating are becoming more positive over time Even today, online dating is not universally seen as a positive activity—a significant minority of the public views online dating skeptically. At the same time, public attitudes towards online dating have grown more positive in the last eight years: In general, online daters themselves give the experience high marks. Yet even some online daters view the process itself and the individuals they encounter on these sites somewhat negatively.
People in nearly every major demographic group—old and young, men and women, urbanites and rural dwellers—are more likely to know someone who uses online dating or met a long term partner through online dating than was the case eight years ago. And this is especially true for those at the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum: Negative experiences on online dating sites are relatively common Even as online daters have largely positive opinions of the process, many have had negative experiences using online dating.
Women are much more likely than men to have experienced uncomfortable contact via online dating sites or apps: One in five online daters have asked someone to help them review their profile. Paid dating sites, and sites for people who are seeking partners with specific characteristics are popular with relatively large numbers of online daters: Advertisement Every day, millions of single adults, worldwide, visit an online dating site.
Many are lucky, finding life-long love or at least some exciting escapades. Others are not so lucky.
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The industry—eHarmony, Match, OkCupid, and a thousand other online dating sites—wants singles and the general public to believe that seeking a partner through their site is not just an alternative way to traditional venues for finding a partner, but a superior way.
With our colleagues Paul Eastwick, Benjamin Karney, and Harry Reis, we recently published a book-length article in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest that examines this question and evaluates online dating from a scientific perspective.
We also conclude, however, that online dating is not better than conventional offline dating in most respects, and that it is worse is some respects. As the stigma of dating online has diminished over the past 15 years, increasing numbers of singles have met romantic partners online. Indeed, in the U.
Of course, many of the people in these relationships would have met somebody offline, but some would still be single and searching. Indeed, the people who are most likely to benefit from online dating are precisely those who would find it difficult to meet others through more conventional methods, such as at work, through a hobby, or through a friend. Singles browse profiles when considering whether to join a given site, when considering whom to contact on the site, when turning back to the site after a bad date, and so forth.
The answer is simple: A series of studies spearheaded by our co-author Paul Eastwick has shown that people lack insight regarding which characteristics in a potential partner will inspire or undermine their attraction to him or her see herehereand here.
The straightforward solution to this problem is for online dating sites to provide singles with the profiles of only a handful of potential partners rather than the hundreds or thousands of profiles that many sites provide.
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But how should dating sites limit the pool? Here we arrive at the second major weakness of online dating: These claims are not supported by any credible evidence.
The first is that those very sites that tout their scientific bona fides have failed to provide a shred of evidence that would convince anybody with scientific training.
The second is that the weight of the scientific evidence suggests that the principles underlying current mathematical matching algorithms—similarity and complementarity—cannot achieve any notable level of success in fostering long-term romantic compatibility.
It is not difficult to convince people unfamiliar with the scientific literature that a given person will, all else equal, be happier in a long-term relationship with a partner who is similar rather than dissimilar to them in terms of personality and values.
Nor is it difficult to convince such people that opposites attract in certain crucial ways. Indeed, a major meta-analytic review of the literature by Matthew Montoya and colleagues in demonstrates that the principles have virtually no impact on relationship quality.