Online Dating: Too Many Choices May Be Bad
According to some newly published research out of Taiwan, it may be.
Marketing from online dating sites often suggests that having more choices is most beneficial, because you have more options from which to choose. But what they don’t say is that the more options you have, the more work you have to do to find profiles that actually match what you’re looking for. Larger doesn’t always mean better.
The participants were 128 youths and adults from southern Taiwan (69 men, 59 women; ages 18 to 36 years) who had membership in online-dating Web sites, as determined on a screening questionnaire. Participants were assigned to view one of three profile groups — large (90 profiles), moderate (60 profiles), or small (30 profiles).
The study found that subjects in the large option group did more searching. Why is this necessarily a bad thing?
[L]arge consideration sets [having more profiles to search through] lead to less selective processing and reduce searchers’ ability to screen out inferior options.
From the perspective of cognitive processing, considering a large set of options may increase cognitive load, leading individuals to make mistakes.
The more our brains have to search through, the more difficult it also becomes to ignore irrelevant information. A person is also more likely to be distracted (or attracted to) attributes that were not initially relevant or pertinent to their original search.
For instance, imagine you’re on an online dating site seeking men who had college degrees, were in a certain weight and body class, and were looking to have children. As you begin to search through the thousands of men who meet those criteria, you start noticing the color of a man’s hair or his eyes, or that he went to Harvard instead of Ohio State. These distractions take you away from your original criteria and, in effect, ensure you spend a lot more time searching than you would if the dataset was much smaller to begin with.
But isn’t this just common sense? The more choices we have, the more time it takes to sort through the available choices, right?
Yes. But what’s not so obvious is that we have finite brain resources and finite time to expend in such activities. Or, as the researchers put it, “The reduction of average cognitive resources spent on each option seems to explain why worse selection will be made under more searches.” Our brains simply aren’t very good at trying to sort through dozens or hundreds of possible choices, each with dozens or even hundreds of relevant attributes.
The findings are not very robust at the moment, however, as the study was conducted in Taiwan on only 128 individuals, so they may not translate to other cultures and the way they approach online dating.
The findings will likely ring true to many who have spent a lot of time on the popular online dating websites. While browsing through a million profiles may sound like heaven to some initially, it’s possible that it’ll result in making poorer choices than if you had a much smaller number of profiles to search through in the first place.
Wu, P-L. & Wen-Bin Chiou, W-B. (2009). More Options Lead to More Searching and Worse Choices in Finding Partners for Romantic Relationships Online: An Experimental Study. (PDF) CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(2), 1-4.
Grohol, J. (2009). Online Dating: Too Many Choices May Be Bad. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 1, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/03/15/online-dating-too-many-choices-may-be-bad/