Formation Of Relationships – Dating Websites

The questions we are dealing with are

How has the filter model been applied to dating websites? How good is the evidence that they work? What does research into dating websites tell us about why people really form relationships?

The researcher you need to focus on is Eli Finkel. A good place to start is with his interview on All In The Mind last year. You can access this via Dropbox or stream it from the BBC: you need to go 22 minutes into the programme. More recently, he has appeared on CBS. You need the first part of this interview, again via Dropbox or direct from CBS. An article about his work is in your resources booklet and can also be found here. This article, also in your resources booklet, refers to some published research which shows the effectiveness of these dating websites. The article tackles the validity of this research.


  1. How has the filter model been applied to dating websites?
    The filter model, created by Kerchhoff and Davis in 1962, has been applied to dating websites in order to discard potential partners that do not meet an individual’s requests/specific needs. Websites like and ask individuals questions firstly on their interests and hobbies, so that individuals can mix with those from a similar social, economic and educational background. By getting to know an individual, the websites can eliminate people that don’t match their clients’ hobbies/interests etc, so that the client doesn’t have to go through hundreds of people’s profiles that they don’t have anything in common with.

    Secondly, the filter model is applied to dating websites when the websites asks for their views and values on more personal or ethical issues, such as “would you require a vegetarian match?” or “would you go out with someone that smokes?”.

    The use of the filter model is useful to dating websites as it enables the dating service to get rid of many poor matches and gain better matches with people that share interests and hobbies etc. In fact, in the Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues” study, printed in the “PNAS” journal, the authors suggest that the “various matching algorithms” that the websites use “may play a role in marital outcomes”.
    Although the use of the filter model in dating websites has been seen as useful, Finkel, associate professor of Psychology of Northwestern University, thinks that “mobile dating” could, perhaps, be more successful. This is because potential couples can see if there are any “sparks” very early on in the dating process, by having a quick face-to-face meet-up.

    How good is the evidence that they work?
    The evidence for the use of the filter model in dating websites, suggesting that dating websites are more successful at pairing up couples for long-lasting and happy relationships (“eHarmony,…, commissioned a survey that found out that couples who get married after meeting online are more satisfied than other couples”), comes from the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS) journal.
    Although the authors of the study included a consultant to eHarmony and eHarmony’s former research director, the paper was published in PNAS, showing it has been validated as a “bona fide” study by US academics.
    The study, however, was based on 19,131 people who got married between 2005-2012, 35% of which met online and although those who met online did report a higher satisfaction rate, on average, the difference between the 2 figures is marginal; 5.64 satisfaction rate for couples who met online vs. 5.48 for those who met offline. Nevertheless, the difference within the study’s large number of participants does suggest significance.
    In an article by Salzberg (2013), comments are made on how the individuals were asked to rate their relationships. Interestingly, participants were only asked to score their marriages on a scale of 1 (Extremely Unhappy) to 7 (Perfect), so the difference between 5.6 and 5.5 is extremely marginal!
    However, one possible reason for this marital happiness, Salzberg claims is that “the online couples are significantly older, wealthier and more educated”, suggesting that it is these factors of the individuals’ lives that led to their marital happiness, not the fact they met their partner on a dating website.
    Additionally, Finkel suggests that there is poor evidence for the success of dating websites. He found that in the “supermarkets of love”, people don’t really learn much from a profile, and just get overloaded by choice. This suggests that the questions and “algorithms” set up by dating and relationship websites to get to know somebody aren’t beneficial for finding a client a potential partner. Similarly, Finkel explains that “there is no compelling evidence that any of these algorithms work” as it seems the matches found are purely random, suggesting that although many dating websites attempt to use the filter model to make long-lasting relationships, the filter model is unsuccessful and only makes random couples.
    What does research into dating websites tell us about why people really form relationships?
    Research into dating websites tell us that people form relationships because they feel more confident “pinging” or “poking” someone online than striking up a conversation in real life.
    Additionally, instead of having to meet hundreds of people yourself, dating websites tailor your individual needs and desires to find “the perfect match”. This suggests that the reason why people really form relationships is because they want someone to share their passions, interests and hobbies with and someone to spend time with doing something that they mutually enjoy.
    Research into dating websites also suggests that people form relationships on the internet because they think it is easier to do and will lead to greater happiness (shown by the 5.6 satisfaction rate for on-line couples).

    1. This is a really thorough account of some important research. It covers areas we didn’t have time to explore in the lesson. Thank you for that. Two important points. The difference between the on-line and offline couples in satisfaction is very small and may be explained by other factors, as you say. You’re right to notice Finkel’s point that this evidence is poor. Secondly, there is the issue of why they don’t work. The problem here is to do with people not giving valid reflections of themselves in the answers on dating website questionnaires. This is partly because they are deliberately untruthful but partly also because there is more to people than just a set of values, attitudes and demographic variables. If we want to understand how successful relationships are really formed, we need to look at these extra dimensions. That’s why the dating apps which get people to meet together are so important.

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