Be Wary Of Online Dating, Texas A&M Prof Advises

If you’re thinking of using an online dating company site to help you find a Valentine this year, you may want to choose the site carefully, cautions a Texas A&M University psychology professor.

Back in November, research by Paul Eastwick indicated that selecting a person based on a list of their traits falls far short of face-to-face interaction.

Now Eastwick and his research partner Eli Finkel of Northwestern University, the lead author in the study, have published a new paper in "Psychological Science in the Public Interest" that further weakens the scientific credibility of many online dating sites.

The paper, “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis from the Perspective of Psychological Science,” critiques the three services offered by online dating companies: access, communication, and their so-called “matching algorithms.”

“A lot of these companies were making scientific claims about how effective their processes are in general,” said Eastwick. “We wanted to use all the things we know about relationship science to determine whether these online dating companies are offering sensible services that are likely to lead to attraction and the formation of successful relationships.”

The conclusion, according to Eastwick, is “not really.” Rather, most online dating companies seem to be making things up as they go based on intuition, not science. Although the companies claim they use science to match people, they instead ignore a vast amount of scientific research that currently exists on the topic.

When it came to access to partners, many sites actually overwhelm users, the researchers concluded.

“When you overwhelm people with options, not only do they make fewer choices, they end up being less satisfied with the options that they do choose. People just keep fishing, keep fishing, keep fishing,” Eastwick said.

Furthermore, Finkel and Eastwick have determined that even though people insist they are searching for specific traits in a partner, those traits actually matter little when meeting someone face-to-face. Sites that offer live webcam-based chats with potential partners are more likely to give people a sense of whether they will or won’t like a potential partner face-to-face.

Particularly worrisome is dating services’ use of questionable matching algorithms, which purport to match people with compatible members of the opposite sex.

“These alleged algorithms have never been scientifically vetted and appear to be based on outdated psychological principles,” Eastwick said. “The algorithms don’t assess the things that really matter - like how well two people manage stressors or interact with each other.” The matching algorithms do not even attempt to assess such factors, he argues, and it is not even clear that these factors can be determined before two people meet.

The research indicates the most helpful quality of online dating sites is their communication component. Providing potential daters with an online communication element such as email, before meeting in person, is a good way to get the ball rolling, particularly for shy people.

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