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The 64-page analysis reviews more than 400 psychology studies and public interest surveys, painting a full and fascinating picture of an industry that, according to one industry estimate, attracted 25 million unique users around the world in April 2011 alone.
The report was commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science and will be published in the February edition of its journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.
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The digital revolution in romance is a boon to lonely-hearters, providing greater and more convenient access to potential partners, reports the team of psychological scientists who prepared the review.
But the industry's claims to offering a "science-based" approach with sophisticated algorithm-based matching have not been substantiated by independent researchers and, therefore, "should be given little credence," they conclude.
Those percentages are likely even larger today, the authors write. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, a stigma was associated with personal advertisements that initially extended to online dating. The authors caution that matching sites' emphasis on finding a perfect match, or soulmate, may encourage an unrealistic and destructive approach to relationships.
But today, "online dating has entered the mainstream, and it is fast shedding any lingering social stigma," the authors write. "People with strong beliefs in romantic destiny (sometimes called soulmate beliefs) that a relationship between two people either is or is not 'meant to be' are especially likely to exit a romantic relationship when problems arise and to become vengeful in response to partner aggression when they feel insecure in the relationship," the authors write. Despite claims of using a "science-based" approach with sophisticated algorithm-based matching, the authors found "no published, peer-reviewed papers or Internet postings, for that matter that explained in sufficient detail the criteria used by dating sites for matching or for selecting which profiles a user gets to peruse." Instead, research touted by online sites is conducted in-house with study methods and data collection treated as proprietary secrets, and, therefore, not verifiable by outside parties.
"The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health," says Reis. Comparing dozens and sometimes hundreds of possible dates may encourage a "shopping" mentality in which people become judgmental and picky, focusing exclusively on a narrow set of criteria like attractiveness or interests.