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16 November 2011
Forget your ideal partner for online dating success
by George Atkinson

Romantic preferences fall by the wayside once you meet a potential dating partner, contends a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Unfortunately, for online daters, a potential partner that matches your ideal traits is unlikely to produce a perfect match, the study concludes.

"People have ideas about the abstract qualities they're looking for in a romantic partner. But once you actually meet somebody face to face, those ideal preferences for traits tend to be quite flexible," said psychologist Paul W. Eastwick, from Texas A&M University and lead author of the new study into online dating success.

"People are not simply the average of their traits," said co-researcher Eli J. Finkel, from Northwestern University. "Knowing that somebody is persistent, ambitious and sexy does not tell you what that person is actually like. The idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn't make sense for us to search for partners that way."

"Thinking about this or that feature of a person apart from taking the whole person into account doesn't predict actual attraction," explained the study's third co-author, Alice H. Eagly. "While some online dating sites have video features that provide some context, generally people are matched on their answers to specific questions that do not capture the whole person."

For those seeking prospective partners, don't be surprised if you end up ignoring your preconceived notions about what would make an ideal mate, Finkel says. "Based on those ideals, you might end up liking a person upon meeting face to face, or you might have the opposite reaction. It is not uncommon for someone to say, 'If you had tried to set me up with this guy, I would never have gone out with him, but I'm so glad I did!'"

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Source: Northwestern University

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