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Dissertation Defense

Jeana Frost:
"Decision Making in the Information Age: A Study of and Design for Online Dating"

Thursday, July 14, 2005, 2:30 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

Dan Ariely
MIT Media Laboratory

Walter Bender
Senior Scientist
MIT Media Laboratory

Youngme Moon
Associate Professor
Harvard Business School

43% of American adults are single and many are looking for new social and romantic connections. At the same time, the Internet offers services to both research and connect with other individuals. As a result, proactive, computer-savvy singles are logging on to find romantic partners. While the online dating industry advertises its success citing the large number of registered users, analysis of website behavior reveals that most users are inactive and reports from users state a preference for dating offline versus on. In addition to documenting current online dating practice, this dissertation includes two efforts: it locates decision-point failures in online dating and proposes and tests an alternate model to improve the experience.

Part 1 shows that acquiring more information—one of the perceived benefits of meeting online and reading profiles—can have negative effects, such as leading to less liking over time, while failing to make people really believe they know others better. The expectation that getting to know others more will lead to more liking, coupled with the fact that more information leads to less liking, means that online daters are frequently disappointed, causing them to leave dating sites, and to continue to prefer offline dating despite its drawbacks.

Part 2 focuses on interventions to improve the online dating experience, making it more similar to life offline through the introduction of "virtual dates" where people "pre-meet" online before they meet face-to-face. In particular, these interventions are targeted at mitigating the overly positive expectations online daters who only read profiles have, bringing expectations for dates more in line with reality, leading to less disappointment—and possibly increased likelihood of finding a match.

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