The growth of the online dating industry has been nothing short of spectacular. But a new Northwestern University study suggests the current science behind the industry is weak as cyber matchmakers use ineffective algorithms and profiles for finding potential love interests.
Researchers say improvements are on the horizon as mobile dating, the latest iteration in digital dating, holds promise as it brings together potential partners face-to-face fast to see if “sparks” exist.
Although the research on mobile dating is scarce, Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study, is optimistic about this approach.
“GPS features on smartphone apps can tell you who is nearby and willing to be browsed,” Finkel said. “With a little bit of basic information, potential daters can get together right away for a quick face-to-face meet-up.”
Experts say that face-to-face contact is critical in finding that special someone — and, that the faster this happens, the better.
The human-to-human connection has been found to be superior to viewing online profiles. Previous research by Finkel and colleagues has shown that the ‘ideal’ preferences of daters (from viewing online profiles) were significantly altered after in-person meetings with potential partners.
The research will be published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Finkel believes the online dating industry has advanced from a version 1 to a version 3. His discussion on the evolution of online dating follow.
“We use the analogy that dating sites like Match.com are like supermarkets of love,” Finkel said. “You check out the wares (online profiles) and see what you like. Upon first blush, this approach seems reasonable, but there are two major problems with it: People really don’t learn much from a profile, and people get overloaded by choice.”
• The second generation in 2000—enter eHarmony:
Sites like eHarmony market themselves less as supermarkets of love than as something akin to real estate brokers of love. They use “matching algorithms” in an effort to identify which potential partners are especially compatible with a given online dater. The choice issue, Finkel observed, is somewhat solved by the algorithm approach. Only a handful of people are chosen as compatible matches.
“But there is no compelling evidence that any of these algorithms work,” he said. “Limiting the number of potential partners is only helpful if the algorithmic-selection process favors compatible partners over incompatible ones, which it fails to do. Even if the algorithms are cutting 2,000 potential partners down to five, if that process is random, is it really any better than strolling into the neighborhood bar?”
• The third generation in 2008—mobile dating:
With the advent of smartphone apps, mobile dating was launched. Mobile dating’s ability to get people face-to-face fast may make a big difference, according to the new Northwestern research.
“You have a little bit of basic information,” Finkel said. “Is this person below threshold or above threshold for a five-minute meet-up—five minutes from now? There’s no better way to figure out whether you’re compatible with somebody than talking to them over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.”
Researchers hope their report will stimulate industry leaders to utilize available scientific methodologies to enhance online dating services.
Source: Northwestern University