Science: Online Dating Is Bullcrap

Science: Online Dating Is Bullcrap

For those of you hoping the internet would prevent a lifetime of isolation, some bad news: online dating is a lie, according to Smart Scientists. The good news is it still sort of works by accident and might cause sex!

The apocalyptic new study, reviewing an enormous body of evidence as to what makes us what makes us want to take off our pants and talk about movies with another person, puts it pretty bluntly. From the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest:

The heavy emphasis on profile browsing at most dating sites has considerable downsides, and there is little reason to believe that current compatibility algorithms are especially effective.

In other words, that little percentage next to an alluring lady and/or dude on OK Cupid means nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true — it means something, it just doesn’t mean anything important. It doesn’t mean you’re actually going to enjoy, let alone adore, this person’s existence.

Part of this is because we don’t know how any of these sites actually work — the process by which a computer decides you’re 86 per cent made for this internet stranger is proprietary:

Compatibility of their personality or values cannot be evaluated meaningfully because it omits information about which personality traits or values are considered and assessed, which are given greater or lesser weight, and how compatibility is established

But also, who the hell knows what matters and what doesn’t? Do you? Probably not, or else you wouldn’t be asking a computer to do it for you. And that’s OK, because you’re a human, and figuring these things out is tough, if not impossible. Unfortunately for you, the people programming these matchmaking codes are also human and probably not wizards or sexual telepaths — so is their software able to think smarter than any of us can? Again, science being a total downer:

Compatibility of [one’s] personality or values cannot be evaluated meaningfully because it omits information about which personality traits or values are considered and assessed, which are given greater or lesser weight, and how compatibility is established

Because human beings are complicated and multifaceted, two individuals who resemble each other in one way (eg, they both love big parties) are unlikely to resemble each other in every way (political conservatism, a taste for Ethiopian food, ethnic background, openness to new experiences, etc.). The idea that similarity in general may facilitate successful relationships says nothing at all about which dimensions of similarity should be favoured over others. In the absence of a clear theoretical direction, research on the implications of similarity has examined many possible ways that partners can be similar, obtaining varying results for different types of similarity.

So, no, the fact that you both list yourselves as politically moderate and enjoy Weezer’s earlier work doesn’t validate that love percentage. In fact, it might mislead you into thinking you’re on the right path, when you’re just staring in the mirror:

Knowing that a person who is White, college educated, and Catholic is likely to be happier with another person who is white, college-educated and Catholic still leaves an unmanageable number of partners from which to choose.

Ugh! As if being white, educated and Catholic couldn’t get any harder! Science, you are being such a jerk right now! People just want to use the internet for humans the same way they use it for pizzas — is that so wrong? What? Yes?

Encountering potential partners via online dating profiles reduces three-dimensional people to two dimensional displays of information, and these displays fail to capture those experiential aspects of social interaction that are essential to evaluating one’s compatibility with potential partners. In addition, the ready access to a large pool of potential partners can elicit an evaluative, assessment-oriented mindset that leads online daters to objectify potential partners and might even undermine their willingness to commit to one of them.

Well, when you put it that way, browsing humans like used DVDs on Amazon is sort of objectifying. But, the study concludes, at the very least, you still might stumble into a relationship or someone else’s bed just by volume:

All other things being equal, having access to many potential partners is better than having access to few or none. Being able to communicate with potential partners safely and conveniently offers an attractive precursor to face-to-face encounters with complete strangers. Confidence that particularly poor relationship partners have been weeded out of the dating pool is an appealing prospect. In short, the potential of online dating to improve the process of finding and securing a satisfying, committed romantic relationship is great.

Confidence! You might find enough of it to actually meet someone IRL and try to kiss them. Just don’t assume you’re confident in this date for any good reason. [Online Dating via BusinessWeek via Dave Pell]