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6 February 2012
Online dating not so scientific
by George Atkinson

A new analysis of online dating reveals explosive growth but the researchers pooh-pooh websites' claims of sophisticated "scientific" matchmaking algorithms. The study was carried out by researchers from five US universities and has been published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

"Online dating is definitely a new and much needed twist on relationships," says the University of Rochester's Harry Reis, one of the five co-authors of the study. But online love has its pitfalls, Reis cautions. Comparing dozens and sometimes hundreds of possible dates may encourage a shopping mentality in which people become judgmental and picky, focusing exclusively on a narrow set of criteria like attractiveness or interests.

Some of the key findings from the study:

  • Online dating has become the second-most-common way for couples to meet, behind only meeting through friends.
  • In 2009, 22 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples had found their partners through the Web (the researchers say those figures are likely even larger today).
  • On average, men viewed three times more profiles than women did.
  • Men were approximately 40 percent more likely to initiate contact with a woman after viewing her profile than women were after viewing a man's profile.
  • Corresponding by computer for weeks - or months - before meeting face-to-face creates unrealistic expectations.

Despite various websites' claims of using a "science-based" approach with sophisticated algorithm-based matchmaking, the researchers found no published, peer-reviewed research that explained in sufficient detail the criteria used by dating sites for matching users. Algorithms and data collection are treated as proprietary secrets, noted the researchers, and therefore not verifiable by outside parties.

Despite the secret-sauce nature of the matchmaking, the researchers believe that online dating helps correct the grossly inefficient dating market for singles in Western society. "The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health," concludes Reis.

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Source: University of Rochester

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