Researchers Skeptical of Claims by Online Dating Sites

With an estimated 40 percent of the 100 million U.S. singles trying online dating, researchers at the University of Arkansas caution users that some Web sites’ claims of scientific justification may be “junk science.”

Psychology professor Jeffrey Lohr and two psychology graduates, Aimee King and Deena Austin-Oden, analyzed several leading dating Web sites and found that promotional claims were more self-serving opinion than legitimate psychological science.

The researchers explored the advertising tactics of matchmaking that existed long before the invention of online dating sites and the Web. For example, many of the matchmaking sites use anecdotes and personal testimonies in advertising in the hope that consumers will accept the endorsement as fact.

Consumers must be cautious of customer satisfaction testimonies in online dating advertisements because the matchmaking sites have most likely pre-selected only satisfied customers, rather than a representative sample, the team said.

Even when the dating services cite scientific evidence, consumers don’t always get all the facts. In an eHarmony comparison, the researchers found that the site neglected to reveal that they compared their couples, who were married only an average of six months (the “honeymoon period”), to couples in the control group who were married an average of two years. The researchers said that opinions expressed during the honeymoon period should not be compared to the opinions of couples after the honeymoon is over.

eHarmony asserts that its matchmaking model is based upon measurement and compatibility. The eHarmony technique is the only one of the leading matchmaking sites that has a patent on its compatibility tests. Thus, eHarmony does not reveal to users the characteristics of their key attributes or the way in which those attributes are related to the people with whom they are matched. uses a compatibility system based on “over 35 years of research” developed by “a chief relationship expert,” while simply claims its method works by the volume of success stories.

Some sites reveal how the compatibility tests work.

The Mate Choice Study is a matching system used by another site, Its structure is similar in form and content to the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which divides people into psychological types. For the survey, there are four different personality types a person might be assigned according to how the person responds to the 56-item questionnaire. There are Explorers and Builders, who tend to gravitate toward their own type based on similarity, and Directors and Negotiators, who gravitate on the basis of complementarities.

Lohr read some of the research analyzed by the leading expert of, anthropologist Helen Fisher.

“The validity of the matching strategy is on the threshold of scientific legitimacy,” Lohr said.

The team also researched to see if online relationship services give the appearance of matching in the more traditional way - work, church, the tennis court or bars. The outcome?

“The evidence is not yet in,” Lohr said.

Relations initiated online may not be as enduring as traditional face-to-face relationships because there are few barriers to breaking up when the cost exceeds the rewards of the relationship, the team said. And another mate is only one click away and easy to find.

Many Web sites make claims that they cannot substantiate. For instance, claims that they are responsible for “twice as many marriages as any other site in the world.” The site measures success according to the number of marriages. However, does not use divorce to measure failure and thus cannot offer scientific research to support the usefulness of their claim.

The researchers referenced four specific variables that determine the likelihood that two people will come together and form a relationship in the traditional face-to-face way: proximity, physical attractiveness and attitudinal similarity, a sense of rapport and similarities or self-disclosure.

The Internet has minimized the importance of proximity, making it possible for distant strangers to get to know each other through computer interactions.

Also, many of the Web sites do not allow users to see a picture of the match in the initial stages of the face-to-face communication, taking the second variable of interpersonal relationships - physical attractiveness - out of the picture.

Self-disclosure, the final variable that determines the likelihood of a relationship forming, can be deceiving, although advocates of Internet dating claim that the anonymity of computer-mediated communication accelerates intimacy through increased openness about aspects of the self. Critics of cyber-dating say that self-disclosure online is often less honest because of the increased opportunities for identity manipulation.

University of Arkansas alumni Austin-Oden and King were both students in an applied psychology research course with Lohr. Austin-Oden and King, a former honors college student, wrote papers about online matchmaking and evaluated it using the critical analysis techniques that Lohr taught. After reading both of the students’ papers, Lohr suggested that they continue the research and collaborate in compiling the information.

It took a total of two years to complete the project. The result is an article in Volume 15 of Skeptic Magazine with the students evaluating the scientific procedure of some of the major online matchmaking sites.

“It was a great experience for me personally, because I plan on pursuing a research career and submitting many manuscripts for publication,” King said.

Being able to evaluate research, compile papers, collaborate with others on projects and work with reviewers during the submission process during my undergraduate career was a good first step, King said.

“It has prepared me for graduate school and my future career in academia,” she said.

Austin-Oden said that the class helped her be more skeptical and proactive about what she believes in advertising.

Source: University of Arkansas (news : web)

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Citation: Researchers Skeptical of Claims by Online Dating Sites (2009, June 15) retrieved 20 September 2019 from
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User comments

Jun 15, 2009
The researchers must be eHarmony rejects. :( Not enough points of compatibility!

Jun 15, 2009
On inter-net chat sites it's best leaving people to come to their own conclusions,whether any particular couple find that mutual chemistry and compatibility.Social science has still got a long way to go due to it's mainly subjective nature.In regards to commercial match making,my view, they use very fluffy pseudo procedures,to hell with that,just let people mingle and chat,they will draw their own conclusions fairly quickly,who's right or not for themselves.At the end of the day you can't trust any date sites data,period!!

Jun 18, 2009
I agree because since the beginning 2003, I had been testing creating several dummy (fake) Male/Female profiles in many online dating sites who claim scientific matching, and I had only analyzed their specifications in others.

Actual online dating sites offering compatibility matching methods are only fueled by big marketing budgets and not by serious scientific evidence. No one (nor eHarmony, nor Chemistry, nor PerfectMatch, nor PlentyOfFish Chemistry Predictor, nor Yahoo!Personals) can prove its matching algorithm can match prospective partners who will have more stable and satisfying relationships than couples matched by chance, astrological destiny, personal preferences, searching on one's own, or other technique as the control group in a peer_reviewed Scientifc Paper.
They are all like placebo, because
* they have less or at least the same precision as searching on one's own, in the range of 3 or 4 persons compatible per 1,000 persons screened, when calculating compatibility between prospective mates.
* That problem arises because they use:
a) simplified versions of personality traits, instead of the 16PF5 or similar with the complete inventory (16 variables)
b) inadequate quantitative methods to calculate compatibility between prospective mates, like eHarmony which uses Dyadic Adjustment Scale or other sites which use multivariate linear / logistic regression equations o other equations.


Fernando Ardenghi.
Buenos Aires.

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