Relationships The modern world provides two new ways to find love — online matchmaking and speed dating. In the last few years, these methods have moved from a last resort for the loveless to a more accepted way for millions to try to meet their mates. While this has led to dates, relationships and marriages around the globe, it has also been a boon for enterprising researchers — providing huge datasets chronicling real world behavior. Take Your Pick For millions of years, humans have been selecting mates using the wealth of information gleaned in face-to-face interactions — not just appearance, but characteristics such as tone of voice, body language, and scent, as well as immediate feedback to their own communications.
Does mate selection differ when those looking are presented with an almost overwhelming number of potential partners, but limited to a few photos, statistics, and an introductory paragraph about each one? What information do online daters focus on? Is it all about the photo? A study in which participants rated actual online profiles confirmed this, but also explored the criteria that made certain photos attractive Fiore et al.
Men were considered more attractive when they looked genuine, extraverted, and feminine, but not overly warm or kind. Although feminine male photos were seen as attractive, whole male profiles were rated more attractive when they seemed more masculine, a perplexing result worthy of more study. Women were deemed more attractive when they looked feminine, high in self-esteem, and not selfish.
Researchers believe that users make up for the lack of information in online profiles by filling in the blanks with guesses based on small pieces of information. Some theorize that online daters may be wearing rose colored glasses when looking at potential dates — filling in the information gaps with positive qualities in a potential partner Gibbs et al. In one study, knowing more information about a potential date generally led to liking them less, possibly because it called out inconsistencies and reduced opportunities to fill in the blanks with positive inferences.
But, with a particularly compatible partner, more information led to more liking. For online daters, this means that a very detailed profile might attract fewer, but more compatible suitors Norton et al.
Research has also revealed gender differences in both preference and messaging behavior on online dating sites. In particular, women and men differ in the relative importance they assign to various attributes of potential partners. Interestingly, these differences persist even when reproduction is no longer a factor.
In a nine-month study of participants on a dating site in and , Andrew Fiore, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues examined stated preferences and actual messaging behavior Fiore et al.
In general, women really are pickier than men — listing smaller ranges in their preferences for age and ethnicity. Women also initiate and reply to contact less than men. They were contacted much more than men and, hence, generally had their choice of who to reply to.
In light of these findings, the researchers presented some advice to potential online daters: More popular users are contacted more and, therefore, are less likely to respond to any one user. In a study, Fiore and Judith Donath Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined messaging data from 65, users of a United States-based dating site.
They found that users preferred sameness on all of the categories they tested a variety of features from child preferences to education to physical features like height. But some factors played a larger role than others, with marital status and wanting or already having children showing the strongest same-seeking.
Fiore has also found that women responded more frequently to men whose popularity on the site a measure based on the average number of people contacting the user per day was similar to their own Fiore, Hitsch and colleagues found that similarity was strongly preferred in a variety of factors, including age, education, height, religion, political views, and smoking.
They also found a strong same-race preference. Interestingly, women have a more pronounced same-race preference, and this preference is not always revealed in their stated preferences Hitsch, et al.
Online dating service users tend to contact people who are about as attractive as they are, but does your own attractiveness level influence how attractive you believe others to be? The site was launched in purely for users to rate each other on how attractive or, obviously, not they were. Later, the site added an online dating component. Consistent with previous research, this study, published in Psychological Science, found that people with similar levels of physical attractiveness indeed tend to date each other, with more attractive people being more particular about the physical attractiveness of their potential dates.
Compared to females, males are more influenced by how physically attractive their potential dates are, but less affected by how attractive they themselves are when deciding whom to date. But these findings about gender bias in attraction are being challenged in other studies — more on this later. Stretching or Shrinking the Truth Assessing potential partners online hinges on other users being truthful in their descriptions.
Psychological scientists have turned to online dating to examine how truthful people are in their descriptions of themselves, both with themselves and to others. Online daters walk a fine line — everyone wants to make themselves as attractive as possible to potential dates, making deception very tempting.
Catalina Toma, Jeffrey Hancock both at Cornell University , and Nicole Ellison Michigan State University examined the relationship between actual physical attributes and online self-descriptions of online daters in New York. They found that lying was ubiquitous, but usually fairly small in terms of magnitude. Men tended to lie about height and women tended to lie about weight. Another modern dating innovation may provide a better solution: Since then, speed dating has spread around the world, giving millions of singles a chance at love.
It also gives savvy researchers an unprecedented chance to study attraction in situ. This hunch was confirmed by a speed dating outing with several other Northwestern colleagues, and the researchers embarked a new track of speed dating work. No word on whether the outing was a success from other standpoints. As Finkel and Eastwick point out in a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, the popularity of speed dating allows the collection of large, real world samples across cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels.
The speed dating design also lets researchers to study both sides of a dyadic process. Also, speed dating allows for exploring reciprocity effects. A Psychological Science article Eastwick et al.
It also allows for testing actual versus stated preferences. One speed dating study showed that stated preferences do not match actual preferences and called into question the gender biases in attraction that have been well-documented elsewhere i.
Speed dating studies also allow researchers to study the implications of simple changes in dating paradigms. This idea holds true at speed dating events, where women generally stay seated while the men rotate.
This set-up stems from vague notions of chivalry, but also from more mundane purposes — according to one speed dating company executive, women tend to have more stuff with them, like purses, and are therefore less efficient movers. Could this set-up in itself affect attraction? Turns out that it can. In most speed dating scenarios as in most attraction scenarios in general women are more selective.
But, when women rotated, this effect disappeared and they became less selective than the men. T he search for love is never easy and attraction is never simple. Research into online matchmaking and speed dating is providing valuable insight into the human quest for romance, and this is only the beginning. Most of the research in this area to-date focuses on dating behavior of heterosexuals in the United States. More work is necessary to determine if the findings so far also apply to international daters and to understand the dynamics of homosexual pairings.
Emerging methods may also bring new insight into dating dynamics. Finkel and Eastwick have begun using a coding scheme to study exactly what participants are saying during their dates, allowing them to potentially code what exactly makes a date great or awkward.
Is it better to communicate independence from or interdependence with your partner? References and Further Reading Eastwick, P. Selective versus unselective romantic desire: Not all reciprocity is created equal.
Psychological Science, 18, — Sex differences in mate preferences revisited: Do people know what they initially desire in a romantic partner? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity. Psychological Science, 20, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, Homophily in online dating: When do you like someone like yourself?
Assessing attractiveness in online dating profiles. People, profiles, contacts, and replies in online dating. Self-presentation in online personals: The role of anticipated future interaction, self-disclosure, and perceived success in Internet dating.
Communication Research, 33, Matching and sorting in online dating. What makes you click: An empirical analysis of online dating. Working Paper, retrieved Jan. Psychological Science, 19, The lure of ambiguity, or why familiarity breeds contempt.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, Partner preferences across the life span: Online dating by older adults, Psychology and Aging, 24, Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34,