Finding love on the web has become the second most common way of starting relationships, but psychologists found that while there are some “very real benefits” to this widespread way of finding love, online dating still falls short compared to meeting face-to-face.
What was once considered to be a taboo form of courtship has in recent years become a booming multi-billion dollar industry embraced by many of those seeking love.
“Online dating is a marvelous addition to the ways in which singles can meet potential romantic partners," but report author Eli Finkel, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University warned that "users need to be aware of its many pitfalls," in a statement released Monday.
Researchers said that less than one percent of the population they studied met partners through printed personal ads or other commercial mediums in the early 1990s, but by 2005, about 37 percent of single adults who used the Internet had dated online.
The study found that about 22 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of homosexual couples found their partners through the internet between 2007 and 2009.
Men were viewed three times more profiles than women, and were 40 percent more likely to initiate contact after viewing a profile than a woman.
A team of psychologists revealed that although many online dating sites claim that they possess so so-called “matching algorithm” that can match singles with compatible partners, these claims are “unsubstantiated” are very likely to be false.
Finkel said that there is no “compelling evidence” that any of the online matching algorithms work.
Researchers from Northwestern, Texas A&M, UCLA and Illinois State University systematically analyzed and reviewed 400 psychology studies and public interest surveys of the industry that has attracted 25 million unique visitors worldwide and found that online service algorithms did not take one of the “strongest predictors of relationship well-being” into account.
Psychological experts said that the developers of matching algorithms usually focused on the information that was easy to assess, such as similarity in personality and attitudes, and ignored information that psychologists have found to be “crucial” for predicting long-term relationship well-being, so it would be realistic to suggest that dating algorithms were unlikely to be effective.
Researchers indicated that there were two significant problems with online dating.
First browsing through endless online profiles may “overwhelm people or encourage them to treat their search more like shopping than mate-finding” which could lead to singles skipping potential partners who are actually well-suited to them. This is especially true because psychology research has shown that people presented with too many choices tended to make lazy and poor decision.
Secondly, online profiles area “feeble” substitute for face-to-face contact when it comes to the fundamental task of evaluating romantic chemistry, and profiles are unlikely to reveal information key to measuring the sustainability of future relationships.
More importantly while algorithms in sites like eHarmoney.com seemed to reduce the number of potential partners from thousands to a particular few, the selections may be as incompatible as two people meeting at random, and the odds may be no better than finding a relationship by strolling into any bar, Finkel said in an interview with Reuters.
“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," Finkel said, and compared online dating like shopping at “supermarkets of love,” according to Reuters.
What’s more is that the matching algorithms are proprietary and were not shared with researchers, so there was no way to know if they actually worked.
"The assumption is they work. We reviewed the literature and feel safe to conclude they do not," told Reuters.
Researchers said that there was no way to assess whether studies sponsored by dating websites were scientific and data-driven because it they were not objective.
However, Finkel and his co-authors noted that the dating sites were successful by rapidly helping singles meet potential partners in person, and chats and messages people send through online dating sites may help users convey a positive first impression.
Researchers said that given the “potentially serious consequences of intervening in people’s romantic lives, they hope that their research will push web developers to build a more “rigorous scientific foundation for online dating services”.
"If dating sites want to claim that their matching algorithm is scientifically valid, they need to adhere to the standards of science, which is something they have uniformly failed to do. In fact, our report concludes that it is unlikely that their algorithms can work, even in principle, given the limitations of the sorts of matching procedures that these sites use," Finkel said.
"Thus far, the industry certainly does not get an A for effort," concluded Finkel. "For years, the online dating industry has ignored actual relationship science in favor of unsubstantiated claims and buzzwords, like 'matching algorithms,' that merely sound scientific."