With the advent of the internet, people can find a partner on the other side of the globe with a click of a button and can have an entire romance online. Interest and rejection are conveyed nearly instantaneously, and with the addition of smart phones to their technological arsenal, people can constantly check their profile views and messages on the go or download dating apps. With online dating, the options available for a romantic partner seem endless; there are thousands, if not millions of online daters out there all over the world. However, this perception of endless possibility in online dating raises a number of questions:
- Do seemingly limitless choices in mates make it easier to find a romantic partner?
- How does the perception of unlimited choice affect an online dater’s decision on who to date?
- Does this perception of unlimited choice affect commitment?
- Are the choices of romantic partners truly unlimited?
An Information Problem
Online dating and the illusion of unlimited choice is an information problem. How users deal with the illusion of unlimited choice affects how they process information and make decisions about romantic partners. In a recent article in Circulation (excerpted here), Leizel Jackson Case explored how perceived unlimited choice affects users and why choice is really not unlimited.
Faced with seemingly unlimited choices when it comes to potential partners, people may become overwhelmed and find themselves facing choice overload. The choice overload hypothesis is defined as “although the provision of extensive choices may sometimes still be seen as initially desirable, it may also prove unexpectedly demoralizing in the end.” Hu (2014) summarizes one of the studies:
It may seem liberating to live in a land of infinite choices, but research in decision-making suggests otherwise. In a classic study, Stanford researchers set up shop at an upscale grocery store chosen for its “extraordinary selection” of items, including 300 types of jam.
When it came to buying jam, people in the hella-jams condition shut down, exhibiting what researchers call choice paralysis; only 3 percent bought any jam, whereas 30 percent of people in the six-jam booth took home a jar.
And this study dealt with jam! Imagine how much more anxiety online daters must feel when evaluating user profiles, especially when they are looking for a potential life partner. When faced with seemingly infinite choices, online daters may feel more regret over their decision of who to date. Blummer and Kenton point out that “too many choices produce ‘bad decisions’ as well as anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction.”
They may also feel information anxiety, “a condition of stress caused by the inability to access, understand, or make use of, necessary information. The cause of this may be either information overload or insufficient information; it may equally be due to poorly organized or presented information, or a variety of other causes, including a lack of understanding of the information environment in which one is working.”
Improving the Search for Love
In addition to information anxiety caused by the abundance of perceived choice, people creating the algorithms have not yet figured out the optimal formula to match people together on online dating sites. What makes people fall in love may never be quantified, but information professionals can minimize choice overload that online daters may face by contributing to research on information seeking behaviors of online daters and offering ways to improve the search process of online dating sites.