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Finding a Perfect Match Online: Does It Really Work?




By Margarita Nahapetyan

Just a decade ago, browsing dating websites was considered as a last chance for the desperate to find a soul mate, but today millions of people use dating websites where they can comb hundreds and thousands of profiles in order to find a perfect match.

However, a group of five US psychology professors who specialize in the study of human relationships, released a report explaining that browsing dating websites to find that special someone can be very frustrating and that there is no substitute for meeting in person. The experts claim that while increasing the potential matches does increase a person's chances to find a potential mate, the rest of what online dating websites offer and promise, through proprietary algorithms, does not do much at all.

Eli Finkel, an associate professor of social psychology at Northwestern University, who investigates the effect of online dating websites on human relationships, said that as many as one in every 4 romantic relationships now start online, when compared with less than one per cent of the relationships that were triggered twenty years ago by personal advertisements in newspapers. These days, people have access to profiles of hundreds of thousands of potential partners that they might be interested in, and that is great, Finkel said. However, the professor feels that online matchmaking sites, like eHarmony and Match.com are misleading people when they say that they can use technology in order to find their users perfect matches.

Psychologists compared online dating to shopping at "supermarkets of love" and noted that people when given too many options and profiles to choose from were more likely to make lazy and poor decisions at the end. Finkel and his colleagues also questioned the algorithms and mathematical formulas used by websites such as eHarmony.com in order to match people based on their compatibility, and compared this kind of sites to having an estate agent of love. Professor explained that, in contrast to what these sites promise their users, it is impossible to calculate or predict compatibility in the hypothetical, either by asking people what qualities they want to see in their partner or by asking them a detailed set of questions about themselves that would later be used to find the best matches for them.

According to the report, there is always a problem with asking people to describe their ideal partner as the vast majority is not good at predicting what they really want. For example, multiple studies of speed dating have found that potential daters felt romantically attracted to those people who did not actually match the descriptions of their ideal partner they had given before. The process of browsing thousands of profiles through matchmaking sites can aggravate this disconnect, as users rely on easily comparable qualities such as weight, appearance or income rather than qualities that might play a more important role in interpersonal chemistry.

Matchmaking sites claim that special algorithms are supposed to solve this problem, but Finkel and his team strongly argue that this is impossible. While the algorithm may help bring down the number of potential candidates from millions to just a few, these people had never met face to face and may be as incompatible as those who just randomly meet in the street. Eighty years of relationship science has reliably proved that it is impossible to tell in advance whether a relationship will be successful based on information about individuals who have never met each other, the authors concluded.

The report is published in the current issue of the Association for Psychological Science organization's journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI).



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