What’s more, there was little association between the traits participants said they wanted in a partner on paper and what they actually liked about the mates at the speed dating event. In other words, you may flaunt your Rolex in your Tinder photo, but that might not stop your date from heading home with a scruffy artist once you’re at the bar.
This is in part because the way people pair with one another on dating sites is different from the way they will then later evaluate the relationship, according to Finkel and Eastwick. People browse online profiles in what’s known as “joint evaluation mode,” comparing multiple suitors against one another on the basis of attractiveness, income, and other factors. But they make relationship decisions in what’s called “separate evaluation mode,” judging just that person and thinking, “Is this person right for me?” Even if you pick out the prospect with the most striking jawline, and you may overlook the one who will willingly spend hours watching Cake Boss with you, sans judgement.
“The joint evaluation model … is likely to cause users to focus on certain qualities they think are important in a potential partner, perhaps to the neglect of qualities that actually are important,” Finkel wrote in a paper published last year in the journal Psychological Science.
“Certain qualities are easy to focus on in a joint evaluation mode (e.g., height, income, physical appearance),” Finkel later told me in an email. “But the truth is that those qualities aren’t the important ones that predict relationship well-being. What we really want is information about rapport, compatibility of sense of humor, sexual compatibility” and the like.
And computers simply aren’t able to convey information about people the way people can about themselves, Finkel says.
“There is something that people must assess face-to-face before a romantic relationship can begin—the myriad factors such as sense of humor, rapport, interaction style, holistic impressions, and nonconscious mimicry that determine how comfortably two people interact. You can assess compatibility better in 10 minutes of face-to-face time than in 100 hours of profile browsing.”
Finkel and Eastwick wrote that while online dating services greatly expand the dating pool for their users, they don’t necessarily foster better relationships: The sites “do not always improve romantic outcomes; indeed, they sometimes undermine such outcomes.”
At the same time, though, apps like Tinder remain remarkably popular. A little over a year after its launch, two million Tinder “matches” happen each day.