Internet Cupids often miss their mark: researchers

CHICAGO Mon Feb 6, 2012 1:57pm EST

A generic picture of a woman working in an office sitting at her desk typing on a computer. REUTERS/Catherine Benson

A generic picture of a woman working in an office sitting at her desk typing on a computer.

Credit: Reuters/Catherine Benson

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Combing dating websites for that perfect love match can be very frustrating, and a group of U.S. psychology professors released a report on Monday explaining why there is no substitute for meeting face-to-face.

"Online dating is a terrific addition for singles to meet. That said, there are two problems," report author Eli Finkel, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, said in an interview.

First, poring over seemingly endless lists of profiles of people one does not know, as on Match.com, does not reveal much about them. Second, it "overloads people and they end up shutting down," Finkel said.

He compared it to shopping at "supermarkets of love" and said psychological research shows people presented with too many choices tend to make lazy and often poor decisions.

The study's authors also questioned the algorithms employed by sites such as eHarmony.com to match people based on their interests or personality - comparing it to having a real estate agent of love.

While the algorithm may reduce the number of potential partners from thousands to a few, they have never met and may be as incompatible as two people meeting at random, Finkel said, adding the odds are no better than finding a relationship by strolling into any bar.

"Eighty years of relationship science has reliably shown you can't predict whether a relationship succeeds based on information about people who are unaware of each other," he said.

The algorithms are proprietary and were not shared with the researchers. "The assumption is they work. We reviewed the literature and feel safe to conclude they do not," he said.

He dismissed the dating websites' own studies on their success as unscientific, and said there are as yet no objective, data-driven studies of online dating. The researchers reviewed the literature on online dating and compared it to previous research.

Finkel said he and four psychology professors from other schools were enlisted by the Association for Psychological Science to write about the online dating industry, and the report was being published in the organization's journal, Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

Perhaps solving what Finkel termed the "original sins" of online dating are mobile dating websites such as Badoo.com and Zoosk.com. The sites offer some information about other members but more importantly allow participants visiting a museum, say, to ask others logged on nearby to meet up.

"There's no better way to figure out whether you're compatible with somebody than talking to them over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer," Finkel said.

(Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by Eric Beech)

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Comments (1)
BarbHC wrote:
Interesting point of view; however, let me give you the “other side” of the story. I lived 1000 miles away from the person I met online and married. Without a dating website, we never would have met. The day I got serious about meeting “Mr. Right”, I went online at 8:00am, signed up on 3 websites for a 3 month membership (match.com, CatholicSingles.com and CatholicMatch.com). I reviewed profiles all day, until 10:00pm at which time I had a pretty good feeling about one certain person, so I contacted him. Like myself, he wrote a long and detailed profile, so I already knew a lot about him and felt there was much compatibility there. I contacted him. By midnight, I had a lovely response that encouraged further contact. Since we were both 65 and widowed after being happily married, we had a pretty good idea about an “ideal mate”. We both used a number of “filters” in our searches which helped to eliminate unwanted prospects. Through CatholicSingles.com, we found each other, something that probably would not have happened without the online searching, even though, after making contact, getting together in person was not s problem as I had already made prior plans to be in his town for a visit with my daughter within 2 months after we had met online! Eleven months and 2 weeks after the initial contact, we were married with our combined 6 adult children as our witnesses. That was over 5 years ago! Each day, we are happier than the day before.

If a person is truly serious about meeting the right person, it can be done. It is a matter of being persistent and serious. It takes work, but when you find the right person, it is so worth it!

Feb 06, 2012 6:56pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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