1. Study suggests meeting online ups likelihood of marriage success

    June 9, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Chicago press release via EurekAlert!:

    datingMore than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online, according to new research at the University of Chicago, which also found that online couples have happier, longer marriages.

    Although the study did not determine why relationships that started online were more successful, the reasons may include the strong motivations of online daters, the availability of advance screening, and the sheer volume of opportunities online.

    “These data suggest that the Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself,” said the study’s lead author, John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

    The results were published in the paper, “Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of June 3 to 7.

    Meeting online has become an increasingly common way to find a partner, with opportunities arising through social networks, exchanges of email, instant messages, multi-player games and online communities. The research shows that couples who met online were more likely to have higher marital satisfaction and lower rates of marital breakups than relationships that began in face-to-face meetings.

    Marriage breakups were reported in about 6 percent of the people who met online, compared with 7.6 percent of the people who met offline. Marriages for people who met online reported a mean score of 5.64 on a satisfaction survey, compared with a score of 5.48 for people who met offline. The survey was based on questions about their happiness with their marriage and degree of affection, communication and love for each other.

    For the study, Cacioppo led a team that examined the results of a representative sample of 19,131 people who responded to a survey by Harris Interactive about their marriages and satisfaction.

    The study found a wide variety of venues, both online and offline, where people met. About 45 percent met through an online dating site. People who met online were more likely to be older (30 to 39 is the largest age group represented); employed and had a higher income. The group was diverse racially and ethnically.

    People who met offline found marriage partners at various venues including work, school, church, social gatherings, clubs and bars, and places of worship. Among the least successful marriages were those in which people met at bars, through blind dates and in virtual worlds (where individuals interact in online spaces via avatars), the researchers found.

    Relationships that start online may benefit from selectivity and the focused nature of online dating, the authors said. The differences in marital outcomes from online and offline meetings persisted after controlling for demographic differences, but “it is possible that individuals who met their spouse online may be different in personality, motivation to form a long-term marital relationship, or some other factor,” said Cacioppo. Meeting online also may provide a larger pool of prospective marriage partners, along with advance screening in the case of dating services. And although deception often occurs online, studies suggest that people are relatively honest in online dating encounters; the lies tend to be minor misrepresentations of weight or height.

    “Marital outcomes are influenced by a variety of factors. Where one meets their spouse is only one contributing factor, and the effects of where one meets one’s spouse are understandably quite small and do not hold for everyone,” Cacioppo said. “The results of this study are nevertheless encouraging, given the paradigm shift in terms of how Americans are meeting their spouses.”

     


  2. Study examines what makes couples ‘click’ in four minutes

    May 8, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University press release by Brooke Donald via HealthCanal:

    datingCan you “click” with someone after only four minutes?

    That’s the question at the heart of new research by Stanford scholars Dan McFarland and Dan Jurafsky that looks at how meaningful bonds are formed.

    McFarland, a sociologist at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, and Jurafsky, a computational linguist, analyzed the conversations of heterosexual couples during speed dating encounters to find out why some people felt a sense of connection after the meeting and others didn’t.

    Their paper, “Making the Connection: Social Bonding in Courtship Situations,” was published this month in the American Journal of Sociology.

    One of the key features of a community, social network or relationship is the sense that it’s meaningful, that there is some kind of force behind the relationship,” McFarland said. “We wanted to get at what the essence of the connection is, what makes people feel like they bonded.”

    McFarland said much of the literature on social bonding points to characteristics – traits, status, attributes, motivation, experiences – as reasons why people connect. But, he said, those explanations ignore or downplay the role of communication.

    There is a great deal of uncertainty, the paper notes, about the meaning of signals we send to other people, and how that plays into forging interpersonal connections.

    We wanted to see if there is anything about the interaction that matters or is it really just what I look like, what I do, what my motivation is. Is it all things that are psychological or in my head or is there actually something in how we hit it off?”

    Their analysis of nearly 1,000 dates found that words, indeed, do matter. How the words are delivered, when and for how long make a difference to how people feel toward each other, and in this case, whether the men and women sensed that they “clicked” during their encounter.

    The four-minute date, the study found, was enough time to forge a meaningful relationship – something that seemed to go beyond looks and motivation. But female participants reported lower rates of “clicking” than men, suggesting the women are more selective and, in this particular setting, more powerful.

    The participants in the study were graduate students at Stanford, and wore audio recording devices during their dates. The dates lasted four minutes each, and after they were done, the participants filled out a scorecard that, among other things, asked if he or she would like to go out on a real date with the person. If both parties said yes, a real date was set up.

    For the purposes of this study, the participants also filled out pre- and post-date surveys.

    The dates were transcribed and computer software was used to analyze the words and speech to see if any characteristics of the language corresponded to the participants’ reporting of feeling a sense of connection.

    “We were looking at conversational behaviors or speech features and how they express characteristics of the social experience, how you feel about the other person,” Jurafsky said.

    Women reported a sense of connection to men who used appreciative language (“That’s awesome” or “Good for you”) and sympathy (“That must be tough on you”).

    Women also reported clicking with male partners who interrupted them – not as a way to redirect the conversation but to demonstrate understanding and engagement, for example, by finishing a sentence or adding to it.

    Both genders reported clicking when their conversations were mainly about the women.

    “You could say men are self-centered and women are always trying to please men and dates will go well if they talk about the guy, but it turns out that’s just not true. It’s just the opposite,” McFarland said. “This is a situation in life where women have the power, women get to decide. So talking about the empowered party is a sensible strategy toward feeling connected.”

    While interrupting could be viewed as positive, asking a lot of questions tended to have a negative result.

    “Women feel disconnected when they have to ask men questions, or when men ask them questions,” the paper said. Questions were used by women to keep a lagging conversation going and by men who had nothing to say.

    Successful dates, the paper notes, were associated with women being the focal point and engaged in the conversation, and men demonstrating alignment with and understanding of the women.

    Shared stories also indicated a sense of connection, as did speakers who showed enthusiasm by varying their speech to get louder and softer.

    The researchers said the longer it took for the individuals to decide on a date, the more they reported having a bonding experience, suggesting communication can change someone’s feelings about another person and break the association with traits.

    Further studies could look at same-sex relationships, for example, or could explore the transitions to other states, like marriage.

    Stanford’s Institute for Research in the Social Sciences and various grants from the National Science Foundation supported this interdisciplinary research effort.

     


  3. Study suggests weather can influence receptivity to flirting

    February 4, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis press release via AlphaGalileo:

    cubicle_worplaceWe all know how casual flirtation can lift one’s mood, which can be important at this time of year when the winter blues are at their peak. But if you are more serious about your flirting and hope to get that all important phone number, you’re better off waiting until it’s sunny, according to new French research published in the journal Social Influence.

    Nicolas Guéguen of the University of South Brittany – who has previously investigated how wearing red lipstick can increase a waitress’ tips – conducted a study in which an ‘attractive’ 20 year old male approached 18-25 year old women walking alone in the street and asked them for their phone numbers. The women were solicited on both sunny and cloudy (but not rainy) days, when the temperature was about the same.

    In the past other environmental factors have been found to make people more likely to flirt or exchange phone numbers – the presence of pleasant smells, romantic music or certain colours have all been found to have an effect.

    Previous research has also shown how the weather can affect certain social behaviours – sunshine makes people more likely to help strangers or answer a survey, and people tend to leave bigger tips in restaurants on sunny days. But this is the first research to explore how the weather may influence courtship or dating behaviour.

    It was found that women were more receptive to being approached and flirted with – and give out their phone numbers – on sunny days: over a fifth – 22.4% – of women did so when the sun was out, as opposed to 13.9% on the cloudy days.

    (The phone numbers were later used to contact the women and tell them the true nature of the study, as per the recommendation of the ethics committee of the lab which reviewed the project!)

    The message seems clear: flirting is more likely to have a positive outcome on sunny days. But Professor Guéguen was careful to include certain caveats regarding the applicability of the research to everyday situations: the sunshine (or other factors) may after all have improved the attractive 20 year old male’s flirting skills on those days.

    Other atmospheric conditions such as windiness or humidity were not accounted for. And, perhaps most crucially, the research was conducted in France, where ‘men traditionally approach women in romantic relationships’.

    The journal article concludes with suggestions for further study in this area – for instance, are men themselves more likely to initiate flirting behaviour when the sun is shining? We’ll have to wait until the Spring to find out!


  4. Researchers identify two regions of brain whose behaviour predicts outcome of speed dating

    November 13, 2012 by Sue

    From the Caltech press release by Marcus Woo:

    speed datingFor speed daters, first impressions are everything. But it’s more than just whether someone is hot or not.

    Whether or not we like to admit it, we all may make snap judgments about a new face. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in speed dating, during which people decide on someone’s romantic potential in just a few seconds. How they make those decisions, however, is not well understood.

    But now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have found that people make such speed-dating decisions based on a combination of two different factors that are related to activity in two distinct parts of the brain.

    Unsurprisingly, the first factor in determining whether someone gets a lot of date requests is physical attractiveness. The second factor, which may be less obvious, involves people’s own individual preferences—how compatible a potential partner may be, for instance.

    The study, which is published in the November 7 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, is one of the first to look at what happens in the brain when people make rapid-judgment decisions that carry real social consequences, the researchers say.

    Psychologists have known for some time that people can often make very rapid judgments about others based on limited information, such as appearance,” says John O’Doherty, professor of psychology and one of the paper’s coauthors. “However, very little has been known about how this might work in real social interactions with real consequences—such as when making decisions about whether to date someone or not. And almost nothing is known about how this type of rapid judgment is made by the brain.”

    In the study, 39 heterosexual male and female volunteers were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and then shown pictures of potential dates of the opposite sex. They were given four seconds to rate, on a scale from 1 to 4, how much they would want to date that person. After cycling through as many as 90 faces, the participants then rated the faces again—outside the fMRI machine—on attractiveness and likeability on a scale from 1 to 9. Later, the volunteers participated in a real speed-dating event, in which they spent five minutes talking to some of the potential dates they had rated in the fMRI machine. The participants listed those they wanted to see again; if there were any matches, each person in the pair was given the other’s contact information.

    Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the researchers found that the people who were rated as most attractive by consensus were the ones who got the most date requests. Seeing someone who was deemed attractive (and who also ended up with more date requests) was associated with activity in a region of the rater’s brain called the paracingulate cortex, a part of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), which is an important area for cognitive control and decision making. The paracingulate cortex, in particular, has been shown to be active when the brain is comparing options.

    This phenomenon was fairly consistent across all participants, says Jeff Cooper, a former postdoctoral scholar in O’Doherty’s lab and first author of the paper. In other words, nearly everyone considers physical attraction when judging a potential romantic partner, and that judgment is correlated with activity in the paracingulate cortex.

    “But that’s not the only thing that’s happening,” Cooper adds. When some participants saw a person they wanted to date—but who was not rated as very desirable by everyone else—they showed more activation in the rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC), which is also a part of the DMPFC, but sits farther in front than the paracingulate cortex. The RMPFC has been previously associated with consideration of other people’s thoughts, comparisons of oneself to others, and, in particular, perceptions of similarities with others. This suggests that in addition to physical attractiveness, the researchers say, people consider individual compatibility.

    While good looks remains the most important factor in determining whether a person gets a date request, a person’s likeability—as perceived by other individuals—is also important. For example, likeability serves as a tiebreaker if two people have equal attractiveness ratings. If someone thought a potential date was more likeable than other people did, then that someone was more likely to ask for a date.

    “Our work shows for the first time that activity in two parts of the DMPFC may be very important for driving the snapshot judgments that we make all the time about other people,” O’Doherty says.

    As for the results of the speed-dating event? A few couples were still together six weeks afterward, Cooper says, but the researchers have not followed up. The study was focused on the neural mechanisms behind snap judgments—how those judgments relate to long-term romantic success, he says, is another question.

    In addition to Cooper and O’Doherty, the other authors of the Journal of Neuroscience paper are Caltech graduate student Simon Dunne and Teresa Furey of Trinity College Dublin. The title of paper is “Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex Mediates Rapid Evaluations Predicting the Outcome of Romantic Interactions.” This research was funded by an Irish Research Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology Fellowship, the Wellcome Trust, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


  5. Study suggests cyclical relationships can be less satisfactory

    February 21, 2012 by Sue

    From the Kansas State University press release:

    Before renewing romance with an ex, it may be better to move on to the next.

    Amber Vennum, assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, is studying couples in cyclical relationships — the term used for a couple who breaks up and then gets back together. She is looking at why couples reunite and how it affects the relationship.

    “There has been very little research on this topic, but it turns out that cyclical relationships are quite prevalent,” Vennum said. “With college-age kids, about 40 percent are currently in a relationship where they have broken up and then have gotten back together. That’s shocking, especially when you factor in the outcomes of being in a cyclical relationship.”

    For her research, Vennum analyzed information that cyclical and noncyclical couples gave about their relationship and its characteristics. The information was evaluated using the relationship deciding scale, or RDS, which assesses relationship qualities and accurately predicts what the relationship will be like 14 weeks into the future.

    While movies, books and TV shows may portray rekindling a relationship as romantic, Vennum found that the results of getting back together were less than desirable.

    Findings showed that couples in a cyclical relationship tended to be more impulsive about major relationship transitions — like moving in together, buying a pet together or having a child together — than those not in a cyclical relationship. As a result, the couples in cyclical relationships tended to be less satisfied with their partner; had worse communication; made more decisions that negatively affected the relationship; had lower self-esteem; and had a higher uncertainty about their future together.

    “The idea is that because people aren’t making explicit commitments to the relationship, they are less likely to engage in pro-relationship behaviors, such as discussing the state of the relationship or making sacrifices for their partner,” Vennum said. “The thought is that, ‘I’m not committed to you, why would I work very hard for you?’”

    The findings are in line with those from the only other U.S. research team to study cyclical couples, according to Vennum. That team studied the breakup strategies used by couples in cyclical relationships and their reasons for reuniting. The researchers found that couples said they got back together because they believed their partner had changed for the better or that communications had improved — but the results indicated otherwise. Additionally, other couples stated that the relationship continued because it was unclear if they had actually ended their romance.

    “When cyclical couples break up, they tend to be ambiguous about ending the relationship,” Vennum said. “So it can be unclear to one or both partners if they broke up and why they broke up, which leads to them continuing the romantic relationship. Other times the breakup won’t be unilateral, so one person pursues the other until they get back together.”

    Vennum also looked at the effect of premarital cyclicality on marriages.

    She found that couples who were cyclical prior to marriage were more uncertain about getting married and began their marriages with lower satisfaction and higher conflict than noncyclical couples. Over time, satisfaction with the marriage continued to decrease for cyclical couples. Additionally, spouses who were cyclical before marriage were also more likely to experience a trial separation during the first three years of marriage.

    “It really shows that those patterns of cyclicality tend to repeat,” Vennum said. “If you tend to be cyclical while dating, you tend to be cyclical while married. The more you are cyclical, the more your relationship quality tends to decrease and that creates a lack of trust and uncertainty about the future of the relationship, perpetuating the pattern.”

    Vennum is currently putting together her findings for publication. She also has advice for couples who have broken up.

    “Don’t get back together,” she said. “Study after study shows that when our relationships are poor, we don’t function well. If it seems necessary to get back together, make sure the decision is carefully considered by both people and that specific efforts are made to establish clarity.”


  6. Study suggests there are ways to tell if internet dating profiles are deceptive

    February 15, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release:

    Online daters intent on fudging their personal information have a big advantage: most people are terrible at identifying a liar. But new research is turning the tables on deceivers using their own words.

    “Generally, people don’t want to admit they’ve lied,” says Catalina Toma, communication science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But we don’t have to rely on the liars to tell us about their lies. We can read their handiwork.”

    Using personal descriptions written for Internet dating profiles, Toma and Jeffrey Hancock, communication professor at Cornell University, have identified clues as to whether the author was being deceptive.

    The researchers compared the actual height, weight and age of 78 online daters to their profile information and photos on four matchmaking websites. A linguistic analysis of the group’s written self-descriptions published in the February issue of the Journal of Communication revealed patterns in the liars’ writing.

    The more deceptive a dater’s profile, the less likely they were to use the first-person pronoun “I.”

    “Liars do this because they want to distance themselves from their deceptive statements,” Toma says.

    The liars often employed negation, a flip of the language that would restate “happy” as “not sad” or “exciting” as “not boring.” And the fabricators tended to write shorter self-descriptions in their profiles – a hedge, Toma expects, against weaving a more tangled web of deception.

    “They don’t want to say too much,” Toma says. “Liars experience a lot of cognitive load. They have a lot to think about. They less they write, the fewer untrue things they may have to remember and support later.

    Liars were also careful to skirt their own deception. Daters who had lied about their age, height or weight or had included a photo the researchers found to be less than representative of reality, were likely to avoid discussing their appearance in their written descriptions, choosing instead to talk about work or life achievements.

    The toolkit of language clues gave the researchers a distinct advantage when they re-examined their pool of 78 online daters.

    “The more deceptive the self-description, the fewer times you see ‘I,’ the more negation, the fewer words total – using those indicators, we were able to correctly identify the liars about 65 percent of the time,” Toma says.

    A success rate of nearly two-thirds is a commanding lead over the untrained eye. In a second leg of their study, Toma and Hancock asked volunteers to judge the daters’ trustworthiness based solely on the written self-descriptions posted on their online profiles.

    “We asked them to tell us how trustworthy the person who wrote each profile was. And, as we expected, people are just bad at this,” Toma says. “They might as well have flipped a coin … They’re looking at the wrong things.”

    About 80 percent of the 78 profiles in the study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, strayed from the truth on some level.

    “Almost everybody lied about something, but the magnitude was often small,” Toma says.

    Weight was the most frequent transgression, with women off by an average of 8.5 pounds and men missing by 1.5 pounds on average. Half lied about their height, and nearly 20 percent changed their age.

    Studying lying through online communication such as dating profiles opens a door on a medium in which the liar has more room to maneuver.

    “Online dating is different. It’s not a traditional interaction,” Toma says.

    For one, it’s asynchronous. The back-and-forth of an in-person conversation is missing, giving a liar the opportunity to respond at their leisure or not at all. And it’s editable, so the first telling of the story can come out exactly like the profile-writer would like.

    “You have all the time in the world to say whatever you want,” Toma says. “You’re not expected to be spontaneous. You can write and rewrite as many times as you want before you post, and then in many cases return and edit yourself.”

    Toma says the findings are not out of line with what we know about liars in face-to-face situations.

    “Online daters’ motivations to lie are pretty much the same as traditional daters’,” she says. “It’s not like a deceptive online profile is a new beast, and that helps us apply what we can learn to all manners of communication”

    But don’t go looking just yet for the dating site that employs Toma’s linguistic analysis as a built-in lie detector.

    “Someday there may be software to tell you how likely it is that the cute person whose profile you’re looking at is lying to you, or even that someone is being deceptive in an e-mail,” Toma says. “But that may take a while.”


  7. Study looks at how new couples can experience less relationship stress

    February 9, 2012 by Sue

    From the Kansas State University press release:

    The happiest young couples may be involved in a different kind of engagement.

    Young adults who easily engage in rewarding conversations with their partners are less likely to hold onto anger and stress and more likely to be satisfied with the relationship, according to research from Kansas State University.

    Brenda McDaniel, assistant professor of psychology, has been studying conflict and conflict recovery in young dating couples by examining self-reported questionnaires, physiological markers of stress and videotaped emotional reactions. McDaniel has looked at factors that relate to positive dating relationships or problematic relationships.

    For the research, McDaniel and her team worked with more than 50 couples ages 18 to 20 who had been dating for a least six months but were not engaged, married or living together.

    “These relationships are, by nature, unstable to begin with,” McDaniel said. “They are early dating relationships. Sometimes it is hard to even get the couples to engage in conflict. Conflict does exist but, because the relationship is so new to them, they don’t want to cause a break-up.”

    To observe stress hormone levels, researchers had participants spend 20 minutes talking about a topic that continually causes relationship tension. Often, conflict occurred when one partner treated the other differently in front of family, did not introduce the other to parents and friends, or was flirting with someone else.

    “Typically, the couple is not going to come to a resolution regarding the reoccurring conflict within the 20 minute discussion,” McDaniel said. “But we want to get the stress response to see how couples recover from that relationship stress.”

    After the stressful discussion, couples spent 20 minutes discussing a positive shared time during their relationship. Some of the happy discussions involved reminiscing about their first date, their first kiss or a vacation together. The researchers tracked physiological markers of stress and videotaped emotional reaction before, during and after both the conflict discussion and the happier discussion.

    Whenever you get into a fight and you get amped up, it is typically more adaptive to let that go after the fight,” McDaniel said. “If you ruminate and keep that anger, it can have negative mental and physical consequences. It’s better to have a nice downward recovery after conflict.

    To see if a downward recovery occurred in couples, researchers examined levels of the stress hormone cortisol before the conflict discussion, after the conflict discussion and after the “happy times” discussion. If the cortisol levels resembled an inverted V shape — low before the conflict discussion, high after the conflict discussion, and low again after the happier discussion — the person often reported higher relationship satisfaction and higher relationship closeness. Participants whose cortisol levels stayed high instead of coming back down after the happier discussion reported lower relationship satisfaction and less relationship closeness.

    “In addition to recovery being associated with positive relationship outcomes, we also saw recovery being related to conversation flow,” McDaniel said. “Those individuals whose stress hormone levels remained high didn’t enter into that state of flow.”

    Flow is like being “in the zone,” McDaniel said. People might be in a state of flow if they are so engaged they lose track of time, or get a sense of enjoyment or creativity from an experience. Flow is often used to describe an athlete who is “hot” during a basketball game or a painter during the creation of a painting.

    “A majority of the literature focuses on experiencing flow in a job or activity,” McDaniel said. “But our study examined how couples might experience flow during conversation.”

    The researchers found that engaging in flow is often associated with positive characteristics of relationships. Somewhat surprisingly, it didn’t depend on what one partner was doing — a person who was happy and in a positive mood could engage in flow even if his or her partner was not “in the zone.”

    McDaniel said this disconnect in flow may be because of the nature of late adolescent relationships — 18- to 20-year-olds are still more focused on themselves than on others. In relationships, they are often more focused on how they feel about the relationship and what they are getting out of it rather than a mutual process that includes how the other person feels about the relationship.

    “While more research needs to be done, this positive rewarding state of flow during conversation may be one of the factors that create enduring marital relationships,” McDaniel said. “Hence, these early relationships may serve as practice for later long-term relationship.”

    McDaniel also has a recommendation for young dating couples who want to improve their relationship.

    Try to engage in as much conversation as you can with potential romantic partners,” McDaniel said. “The partners that provide you with the most rewarding experience during those conversations are likely the ones to pursue.”


  8. Study looks at benefits and pitfalls of online dating

    February 6, 2012 by Sue

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    The report card is in, and the online dating industry won’t be putting this one on the fridge. A new scientific report concludes that although online dating offers users some very real benefits, it falls far short of its potential.

    Unheard of just twenty years ago, online dating is now a billion dollar industry and one of the most common ways for singles to meet potential partners. Many websites claim that they can help you find your “soulmate.” But do these online dating services live up to all the hype?

    Not exactly, according to an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    In the article, a team of psychological scientists aims to get at the truth behind online dating, identifying the ways in which online dating may benefit or undermine singles’ romantic outcomes.

    Lead author Eli Finkel, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Northwestern University, recognizes that “online dating is a marvelous addition to the ways in which singles can meet potential romantic partners,” but he warns that “users need to be aware of its many pitfalls.”

    Many online dating sites claim that they possess an exclusive formula, a so-called “matching algorithm,” that can match singles with partners who are especially compatible with them. But, after systematically reviewing the evidence, the authors conclude that such claims are unsubstantiated and likely false.

    “To date, there is no compelling evidence that any online dating matching algorithm actually works,” Finkel observes. “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.”

    The authors suggest that the existing matching algorithms neglect the most important insights from the flourishing discipline of relationship science. The algorithms seek to predict long-term romantic compatibility from characteristics of the two partners before they meet. Yet the strongest predictors of relationship well-being, such as a couple’s interaction style and ability to navigate stressful circumstances, cannot be assessed with such data.

    According to Finkel, “developers of matching algorithms have tended to focus on the information that is easy for them to assess, like similarity in personality and attitudes, rather than the information that relationship science has found to be crucial for predicting long-term relationship well-being. As a result, these algorithms are unlikely to be effective.”

    Many online dating sites market their ability to offer online daters access to a huge number of potential partners. However, online profiles are a feeble substitute for face-to-face contact when it comes to the crucial task of assessing romantic chemistry. Furthermore, browsing through all those online profiles may overwhelm people or encourage them to treat their search more like shopping than mate-finding, which can lead singles to pass over potential partners who are actually well-suited to them.

    Finkel and his co-authors conclude that online dating is successful insofar as it rapidly helps singles meet potential partners in person, so that they can discover whether a romantic spark is there. The chats and messages people send through online dating sites may even help them to convey a positive initial impression, as long as people meet face-to-face relatively quickly.

    Given the potentially serious consequences of intervening in people’s romantic lives, the authors hope that this report will push proprietors to build a more rigorous scientific foundation for online dating services. In a preface to the report, psychological scientist Arthur Aron at the State University of New York at Stony Brook recommends the creation of a panel that would grade the scientific credibility of each online dating site.

    “Thus far, the industry certainly does not get an A for effort,” noted Finkel. “For years, the online dating industry has ignored actual relationship science in favor of unsubstantiated claims and buzzwords, like ‘matching algorithms,’ that merely sound scientific.”

    He added, “In the comments section of the report card, I would write: ‘apply yourself!’”

    Finkel co-authored this report with Paul Eastwick, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University; Benjamin Karney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles; Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester; and Susan Sprecher, professor of sociology and psychology at Illinois State University.


  9. Study suggests men do more selfless things when attractive women are around

    February 2, 2012 by Sue

    From the British Psychological Society press release via AlphaGalileo:

    Men put on their best behaviour when attractive ladies are close by. When the scenario is reversed however, the behaviour of women remains the same. These findings are published today, 2 February 2012, in the British Psychological Society’s British Journal of Psychology via the Wiley Online Library.

    The research, which also found that the number of kind and selfless acts by men corresponded to the attractiveness of ladies, was undertaken by Dr Wendy Iredale of Sheffield Hallam University and Mark Van Vugt of the VU University in Amsterdam and the University of Oxford.

    Two experiments were undertaken. For the first, 65 men and 65 women, all of an average age of 21, anonymously played a cooperation game where they could donate money via a computer program to a group fund. Donations were selfless acts, as all other players would benefit from the fund, whilst the donor wouldn’t necessarily receive anything in return.

    Players did not know who they were playing with. They were observed by either someone of the same sex or opposite sex – two physically attractive volunteers, one man and one woman. Men were found to do significantly more good deeds when observed by the opposite sex. Whilst the number of good deeds made by women didn’t change, regardless of who observed.

    For the second experiment, groups of males were formed. Males were asked to make a number of public donations. These increased when observed by an attractive female, where they were found to actively compete with one another. When observed by another male, however, donations didn’t increase.

    Dr Iredale said: “The research shows that good deeds among men increase when presented with an opportunity to copulate. Theoretically, this suggests that a good deed is the human equivalent of the peacock’s tail. Practically, this research shows how societies can encourage selfless acts.”


  10. Study suggests sex ratios may influence financial decisions

    January 12, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Minnesota press release:

    The perception that women are scarce leads men to become impulsive, save less, and increase borrowing, according to new research from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

    “What we see in other animals is that when females are scarce, males become more competitive. They compete more for access to mates,” says Vladas Griskevicius, an assistant professor of marketing at the Carlson School and lead author of the study. “How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products.”

    To test their theory that the sex ratio affects economic decisions, the researchers had participants read news articles that described their local population as having more men or more women. They were then asked to indicate how much money they would save each month from a paycheck, as well as how much they would borrow with credit cards for immediate expenditures. When led to believe women were scarce, the savings rates for men decreased by 42 percent. Men were also willing to borrow 84 percent more money each month.

    In another study, participants saw photo arrays of men and women that had more men, more women, or were neutral. After looking at the photographs, participants were asked to choose between receiving some money tomorrow or a larger amount in a month. When women were scarce in the photos, men were much more likely to take an immediate $20 rather than wait for $30 in a month.

    According to Griskevicius, participants were unaware that sex ratios were having any effect on their behavior. Merely seeing more men than women automatically led men to simply be more impulsive and want to save less while borrowing more to spend on immediate purchases.

    “Economics tells us that humans make decisions by carefully thinking through our choices; that we’re not like animals,” he says. “It turns out we have a lot in common with other animals. Some of our behaviors are much more reflexive and subconscious. We see that there are more men than women in our environment and it automatically changes our desires, our behaviors, and our entire psychology.”

    “The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men: Sex Ratio Effects on Savings, Borrowing, and Spending” will be published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Co-authors of the study include Joshua Tybur (VU University Amsterdam), Joshua M. Ackerman (M.I.T.), Andrew Delton and Theresa Robertson (University of California, Santa Barbara), and Andrew E. White (Arizona State University).

    Sex Ratios Affect Expectations of Women

    While sex ratios do not influence the financial choices women make, they do shape women’s expectations of how men should spend their money when courting. After reading a news article informing women that there are more men than women, women expected men to spend more on dinner dates, Valentine’s gifts, and engagement rings.

    “When there’s a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them,” adds Griskevicius.

    In a male-biased environment, men also expected they would need to spend more in their mating efforts.

    Population Data Supports Research Findings

    In addition to conducting laboratory experiments, the researchers reviewed archival data and calculated the sex ratios of more than 120 U.S. cities. Consistent with their hypothesis, communities with an abundance of single men showed greater ownership of credit cards and had higher debt levels.

    One striking example was found in two communities located less than 100 miles apart. In Columbus, Ga., where there are 1.18 single men for every single woman, the average consumer debt was $3,479 higher than it was in Macon, Ga., where there were 0.78 single men for every woman.

    Research Implications for Marketers and Society

    Whereas previous research has found that merely seeing an attractive woman in advertising would make a man more aggressive or make a man more interested in conspicuously consuming, “The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men” study suggests it may not be that simple. According to the findings, whether a woman is alone or surrounded by many or few men can have a great impact on the reaction it elicits.

    Griskevicius says the effects of sex ratios go beyond marketing and influence all sorts of behavior. He cites other studies showing the strong correlation between male-biased sex ratios and aggressive behavior.

    “We’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financial behavior,” says Griskevicius. “One of the troubling implications of sex ratios for the world in general is that it’s about more than just money. It’s about violence and survival.”