Online dating services don't work, scientists say

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(CBS) - Scientists want you to think twice before doubling down on online dating services.

A new study published in the upcoming issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest is shedding light on the science - or lack thereof - behind online dating services. The psychological scientists who wrote the report hope to indentify how online dating might be hurting singles.

Co-written by Eli J. Finkel (Northwestern University), Paul W. Eastwick (Texas A & M University), Benjamin R. Karney (UCLA), Harry T. Reis (University of Rochester), and Susan Sprecher (Illinois State University), the report reviews over 400 psychology studies and surveys.

So, what's the problem?

Scientists worry that dating sites claim to use exclusive "matching algorithms," which may be nothing more than a guessing game.

"To date, there is no compelling evidence that any online dating matching algorithm actually works," Finkel said in a press release.

"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."

Examples of mysterious algorithms include that of eHarmony's - after a long questionnaire, the site sets you up on dates. You don't actually get to chose. OkCupid has a formula that matches people based on specific lifestyle questions. Chemistry matches people based on their personality type.

"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," said Finkel. 

Is there really an algorithm for love, though? For as long as dating and relationships have existed, we've been trying to figure out a magic formula for love. Spoiler alert: It doesn't exist.

Shopping market of love

The scientists acknowledge that dating sites have their benefits - mainly, it enables singles to meet people quickly. But, going through so many online profiles may "overwhelm" daters. The researchers worry that searching for potential mates start to resemble shopping.

"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," Finkel said.

There's no denying that online dating is here to stay. The business of matchmaking 2.0 is estimated to be worth $2.1 billion dollars. It's such a popular way for singles to meet that it only comes in second, after introductions through friends.

While the evidence is damning, it won't stop people from signing on to hook up. There is definitely an audience for quick access to hundreds of people online. Perhaps it's not the most effective way to meet your soul mate, but it is efficient for scooping up a dinner date. 

Perhaps a meeting in the middle simply means a basic report card. In the report, Arthur Aron, psychological scientist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook suggests creating a panel to "grade the credibility" of dating sites.

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