Online dating's said to be the future of relationships, now that we're all too busy to meet people in real life. But claims that websites can match you with your ideal partner using scientific algorithms are bull, according to a team of psychologists. Because not even fancy math can suss out our own unique brands of crazy.
In a report that's set to appear in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists has studied the ways in which websites attempt to match people up, and what the results mean for the singletons involved. Sadly, it's not great news.
The biggest problem is the promise of websites to match people up using fancy algorithms. Dating websites have a pretty limited pool of data to draw on, and it turns out that you can't really work out a relationship's long-term potential based on hair colour; shared love of Chinese food; complementary tastes in mid-'70s folk music or even a mutual love of Star Trek.
Instead, the researchers point out that the most important insights in predicting long-term romantic compatibility are things like a couple's interaction style and ability to navigate stressful circumstances. OK, so that is harder to assess, but it's not impossible. Some carefully designed questionnaires could help. Lead author Eli Finkel, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Northwestern University, says:
"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."
So if you're using a dating website that claims to match you up with your dream guy or gal, well, you can pretty much ignore the claim. There is, after all, no way that a website knows about the weird way you shout at people about personal hygiene; the way you glare at people who say "less" when they mean "fewer," or the manner in which you interact with people when you're running late. And how a partner deals with that kind of thing is what really determines longevity.
Elsewhere, the researchers point out that dating websites can often paralyse users with choice, and as a result many people end up treating their quest for love more like a shopping trip. You can't buy love, though, guys. Some chaps in a little British band said something like that once, and it turns out they're right.
It's not all bad though: the researchers concede that dating websites do let people meet others more quickly than they might do in real life, and that chat and online messages are a good approximation to what it's really like to get a first impression of someone. So, go ahead, give online dating a shot. Just remember it can't take into account your inner crazy. [Psychological Science in the Public Interest via EurekAlert!; Image: Don Hankins]