Online dating has become a billion dollar industry and is today a common way for people to meet potential mates – however, a new report written by researchers from Northwestern University and published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest has said that online dating websites fall short of their potential, make several phony claims, but do offer some benefits.

Just two decades ago, online dating did not exist. Nowadays, thousands of websites claim to be able to help us seek out our long-lost soulmate, and set us on our way to living happily ever after. How many of these claims are true, and how much of it all is basically, just enticing marketing hype?

According to this new report, online dating websites do not live up to their claims.

Associate Professor of Social Psychology, Eli Finkel and team set out to determine how effective and close to their claims online dating services really are. They focused mainly on finding out whether online dating helps or hinders people’s romantic outcomes.

Finkel wrote:

“Online dating is a marvelous addition to the ways in which singles can meet potential romantic partners. (However), users need to be aware of its many pitfalls.”

A considerable number of online dating websites say they have a “matching algorithm”, a formula that matches people in a way that makes sure they are compatible, thus significantly increasing the chances of romantic success. However, after studying these so-called algorithms, the researchers believe that the website are unable to substantiate their claims, and that probably the algorithms are phony.

Finkel said:

“To date, there is no compelling evidence that any online dating matching algorithm actually works. 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.”

Algorithms claimed to be used by dating sites miss out on crucial insights that have emerged from relationship science. The most powerful and least inaccurate predictors of a relationship’s success cannot be assessed before partners meet – their interaction style and how they manage to get through stressful circumstances are not possible to predict with current online dating algorithms.

Finkel wrote:

“Developers of matching algorithms have tended to focus on the information that is easy for them to assess, like similarity in personality and attitudes, rather than the information that relationship science has found to be crucial for predicting long-term relationship well-being. As a result, these algorithms are unlikely to be effective.”

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The authors believe nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting

Dating sites tell us they can bring an enormous number of potential mates our way from their extensive database, which they claim is full of compatible contenders. However, the authors say that nothing is as effective as face-to-face contact when determining whether there is any chemistry between two people.

Sifting through a list of potential partners online may encourage people to go about their search much like they would during a shopping spree, rather than a mate-seeking pursuit – this raises the risk of not identifying well-suited candidates; seeing them on the online list but passing them over.

The authors explain that online dating helps people meet potential mates rapidly so that they can quickly determine whether or not there is any compatibility with the people they eventually meet. Initial contacts may be through online chats and messaging exchanges, which help them get to know each other a bit. It is important, the authors add, that a face-to-face meeting occurs relatively soon.

The researchers hope their findings will encourage online dating services create “a more rigorous scientific foundation” for their services, given that they are intervening in people’s romantic lives and aspirations.

Psychological scientists, Arthur Aron, at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, writes in a preface to the report that perhaps a panel should be set up which would grade dating sites according to scientifically credible they are.

Finkel noted:

“Thus far, the industry certainly does not get an A for effort. 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.

In the comments section of the report card, I would write: ‘apply yourself!'”

The authors concluded:

“Online dating offers access to potential partners whom people would be unlikely to meet through other avenues, and this access yields new romantic possibilities. 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.

Online dating functions best to the degree that it introduces people to potential partners they would have been unlikely to encounter otherwise and facilitates a rapid transition to face-to-face interaction, where the two people can get a clearer sense of their romantic potential.

As online dating evolves and matures, it seems likely that more and more of us will first encounter romantic partners online. Cupid’s aim will be most precise to the extent that online dating sites are informed by rigorous psychological science”

Written by Christian Nordqvist