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Does Online Dating Make You Luckier at Love?

New Review Delves Into Claims of Relationship Success Made by Internet Dating Sites
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 6, 2012 -- A new study finds that Internet dating sites help us get together, but they probably don’t make us any luckier in love, despite some companies’ claims to the contrary.

“Online dating does present people with tremendous opportunities for dating that have not been available in the past, but there are several drawbacks and limitations that people need to be aware of when they use it,” says researcher Harry T. Reis, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, in New York.

The first limitation, Reis says, is that “the kind of mentality people use when they browse through various sites can really affect the value of what they get. The second is that sites that offer costly matching algorithms probably aren’t giving people value.”

Researchers say that’s in large part because companies refuse to disclose how they match clients, saying such information is proprietary.

In a statement emailed in response to the review, eHarmony says it plans to lift the curtain on its methods later this year.

“Full disclosure of intellectual property is a complex process, as it remains one of our central competitive advantages. However, we do recognize an increased desire to better understand how our matching system was created and evidence for its [effectiveness]. We have plans to provide more visibility into our matching algorithms later this year,” the statement says.

Is Dating Different if It Starts Online?

The 64-page review, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, attempts to chart the impact of online dating on romantic relationships by asking two questions: Is online dating fundamentally different from the ways people have historically met and fallen in love? And does it make dating more successful?

“Those kind of questions haven’t been answered,” says Jeffrey Hall, PhD, assistant professor in the department of communication studies at the University of Kansas. “People have been really interested for a long time to understand how is Internet dating impacting our lives, but the data is only sort of finally coming to a place where it can be summarized in this way,” says Hall, who has studied online dating, but was not involved in the study.

Online dating came to the masses in 1995, when the web site launched. Back then, only about 4% of couples reported meeting online. Now that number is closer to 23%. That makes online dating the second most popular way singles now get together. The first is a set-up through friends.

Industry analysts say online dating sites now take in about $1 billion annually.

“The difference between what’s happened just 15 years ago and now is astounding,” Hall says. “We’re looking at a sea change in people’s attitudes about the role of online dating in our world.”

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