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6 Jan 2011

What the Failures of Online Dating Can Teach Us

In the last two weeks I ran across articles in The Atlantic and The Economist about online dating: “Take the Data of Dating” and “Love at First Bite” respectively. Regardless of your relational status, the surveys and profiles people are completing to facilitate the process are instructive in understanding the pitfalls of objective personality tests (also known as self-report inventories). Contrast these to the projective tests I discussed in a previous post.

The basic problem with most kinds of self-reporting is that it assumes people are consciously aware of their tendencies. In reality, there usually is a significant difference between “who we think we are” and “who we are.” We often observe this disconnect in others as hypocrisy. Thus, simply answering a series of questions similar to another person doesn’t mean we are even remotely similar.

Things like upbringing, culture, religion, politics and education can condition us to like certain things that we might not like on a deeper level. This can affect our emotional health and our social and interpersonal interactions. Yes, it’s possible to match up objective factors such as income, profession and education, but subjective factors aren’t so easy.

For example, people who talk a lot will often vehemently claim to dislike those who do. Its psychological underpinning is similar to the one in the Shakespearian line from Hamlet (III, ii, 239), “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” That’s why we should not be surprised to find vehement protesters of an action to be conducting the action themselves.

It’s these kind of personality traits that self-reporting inventories, such as online dating surveys, have difficulty capturing. These can often lead to faulty matches.

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