« Are We Meant to be Monogamous? | Main | Check Your Baggage at the Gate »

So Many Fish in the (Online) Sea: Is All This Choice a Good Thing?

Online dating sites, all clamoring to give you access to thousands, or even millions, of potential new dates, clearly believe more fish make a better sea. But, is all this choice really a good thing?

A recent critical review of online dating research suggests maybe not.1 While dating sites deserve credit for increasing romantic opportunities, some of their new-fangled methods could actually be undermining your love life. Before your next foray into the cyber-scene, consider these four online dating tips:

1. Stop and Smell the Profile-Roses—Just Read a Few at a Time

Casanovas aside, most people in real-world dating situations have zero or one partner at a time, affording the luxury of agonizing and protracted decision-making. The online dating format, however, changes things up dramatically. Instead of deciding whether a specific partner is appealing, we focus instead on finding the best profiles, and such romantic browsing triggers different decision-making strategies. For example, one experiment asked single women to pick a man from 4, 24, or 64 online dating profiles. Those with fewer choices considered complex information and weighed trade-offs in a potential partner (e.g., Partner A has a low status job, but he is attractive and highly-educated), while users with more choice considered only a few cues and stopped considering trade-offs (e.g., Partner A, low-status job—Next!).2 So, to avoid making faster decisions with only the information that’s easiest to collect, limit your daily romantic browsing.

2. Remember Who You’re Looking For

Speedy decisions aren’t necessarily bad ones, but another study demonstrated that users who looked at lots of profiles also forgot what they wanted in a mate. Users were given access to either 30, 60, or 90 profiles, and as access increased (e.g., more profiles read), users were paradoxically less likely to pick partners possessing their ideal traits.3 Admittedly, ideals are often weak predictors of partner choice in early dating,4 and such research is hampered by the fact that ideals only matter if real people in the dating pool possess them. On the other hand, ideals have been shown to predict stability and satisfaction in longer-term relationships.4 The moral of this story? Try not to mortgage important preferences for a pretty face.

3. Swim in a Smaller Sea

Unless you’re everyone’s top choice, some recent speed-dating research suggests you might fare better in a smaller sea. For example, one study found that characteristics elicited from chatting, such as educational status and occupation, predicted “yes” decisions at small events (15-25 people), whereas “yes” decisions at larger events were predicted by height and weight.5 People at larger events are also more likely to form a consensus about which participants are most appealing,6 supporting the idea that we dumb-down our decisions as choices increase. More options might even lead to choice overload or avoidance. For example, speed-daters were increasingly likely to say “no” to 100% of pro-offered dates as the age, height, occupation, and education of partners increased.5 Women at smaller events (9-14 men) were also 40% more likely to accept a date from any interested partner than women at larger events.7 Thus, to increase your chances, consider joining a niche site with fewer users (e.g., PlentyofRelationshipScientistsInTheSea.com), or a site that gives “matches” instead of wholesale access.

4. Go On An Actual Date 

All in all, we can only know so much before we meet somebody in real life. Often, even the best information we can glean online is a poor forecast.1 Most of what makes a relationship good, like chemistry, conversation, and conflict-resolution, can’t be evaluated ahead of time. Just be thankful for the online introduction, dust off something spiffy, and go on a real date as soon as possible.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed. 

1Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1), 3–66.

2Lenton, A. P., & Stewart, A. (2008). Changing her ways: Number of options and mate standard strength impact mate choice strategy and satisfaction. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, 501–511.

3Chiou, W., & Yang, M. (2010). The moderating role of need for cognition on excessive searching bias: A case of finding romantic partners online. In B. K. Wiederhold, G. Riva, & S. I. Kim (Eds.), Annual review of cybertherapy and telemedicine (pp. 120–122). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press BV.

4Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1012–1032.

5Lenton, A. P., & Francesconi, M. (2011). Too much of a good thing? Variety is confusing in mate choice. Biology Letters, 7, 528–531.

6Lenton, A. P., Fasolo, B., & Todd, P. M. (2008). “Shopping” for a mate: Expected vs. experienced preferences in online mate choice. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 51, 169–182.

7Fisman, R., Iyengar, S. S., Kamenica, E., & Simonson, I. (2006). Gender differences in mate selection: Evidence from a speed-dating experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121, 673–697.

Melissa Schneider - Science Of Relationships articles | Website
Melissa is a licensed Dating and Relationships Counselor and the Co-Founder of LuvWise.com. Follow her blog or connect on Twitter. Take her free relationship test or work with her to get over that breakup and learn how to build your own great relationship, right from the very first date-- find out how. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (1)

I disagree. Your conclusions are based on the decisions of people being told that they MUST make a choice. I actually used the website, plentyoffish.com and found great success with it because I was able to use an advanced search to narrow down my choices by age, education, height, and race. Knowing that the remaining potential candidates had the minimum requirements gave me the opportunity to make selections based on my secondary requirement: looks. And while I was faced with a pool of around 1,000 choices, I found it easy to glance at a picture and determine whether or not I found a face attractive. Those few who did catch my eye were generally weeded out by information listed on their profiles, but that 1 that I found, who not only met all of my qualifications but exceeded my expectations made all of that searching worth while.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterchasmodai
Editor Permission Required
Sorry, due to the amount of spam we receive, commenting has been disabled for visitors of this site. Please see our Facebook page for comments on recent articles posted.