Decision Making in Online Dating

I've been doing some reading about the online dating industry recently and in particular looking to whether there is a potential use for 4G as a means to predict relationship outcomes. This was kicked off by an article earlier this year in the Association for Psychological Science by Eli J. Finkel, Paul W. Eastwick, Benjamin R. Karney, Harry T. Reis, and Susan Sprecher (here) who raised some interesting questions about the effectiveness of methods used by operators in the booming online dating sector.

In an exhaustive study of what is still a relatively new area of research, the authors examine whether the internet has enabled a better way to find a romantic partner. Undoubtedly the past 15 years has brought a paradigm shift in social attitudes to dating and at first glance it would appear that this has been a boon for lonely hearts. However, as with most things the reality is a little more complex.  

 Historically, online dating has been based on a number of simple and seemingly sensible assumptions about how best to leverage the scalability of the internet to help people more effectively find long-term partners. Key components are the searchable online personal profile and the proprietary matching algorithms developed by onlines sites that claim to help identify compatibility.  This would seem to be a simple and sensible approach, letting people to take control and manage their own introductions.

However, the paper concludes there is no evidence to support the claims to the efficacy of matching algorithms. Furthermore, being faced with a huge number of potential matches does not necessarily make for good decision making. This is no great surprise given the lack of transparency within the online dating industry. The authors also raise another interesting point, that when faced with a large number of profiles to peruse on the web, our decision-making processes are different to situations when we are meeting people face to face. Huge choice has the effect of commoditising the the process and in the majority of cases leads us to self-selecting for individuals most like ourselves. Again, this appears sensible yet may not lead to the best relationships. Unfortunately, online dating sites and other social media are heavily geared towards enabling us to find people who share our interests, in effect using a very simple denominator to make connections. As the authors state;

On the other hand, the heavy emphasis on profile browsing at most dating sites has considerable downsides, and there is little reason to believe that current compatibility algorithms are especially effective.

 The more I read about dating, the more it strikes me that direct parallels can be drawn between online dating and recruitment. For personal profiles see online CVs, for matching algorithms see psychometric and other selection tools. Because we now have access to potentially a far large pool of talent through the web, the assumption is that organisations can make better choices when it comes to recruitment. As with dating, I reckon a greater quantity of choices doesn't necessarily equate to greater quality of decision making.


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