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When Do Online Daters Stop Scrolling and Make a Choice?

Reciprocation matters. So does novelty.

Key points

  • When comparing equally attractive faces, both men and women are attracted to novelty.
  • Visual familiarity does not necessarily breed liking when people have the autonomy to choose.
  • A dating context may prompt male attraction to faces in a general sense.

Have you ever opened a restaurant menu and been overwhelmed with all of the choices? It’s almost easier to order when there are fewer options. If you order the ham and cheese and see the BLT served at the next table, you wish you had ordered that.

Some online daters feel the same way when they join sites that offer literally thousands of choices. And because many people use several sites at the same time, they are bombarded with options. In this type of environment, finding “the one” can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

And once a “match” is made, do daters drop off the site, or do they continue to scroll for better options? Research has some answers.

So Many Choices, It's Hard to Choose Just One

When scrolling through online dating options, there can be too much of a good thing. Jordan R. Sculley et al. (2021) tested the impact of having a wide variety of online dating options on perceived attractiveness of familiar as compared to novel faces.[i] Reporting in Computers in Human Behavior, hey found that the plethora of choices available through online dating sites could create an “assessment mindset,” predisposing people to consider alternative partners and reduce the motivation to commit to just one partner.

Sculley et al. showed participants slideshows of either dates or equally attractive desserts, and measured the effect on attraction when faces were viewed a second time, and also measured response to novel versus familiar faces. Among other findings, they discovered that single women, relative to single men, were less attracted to familiar faces following slideshow viewing. Even when sets of faces were equally attractive, both men and women were more attracted to novel faces, with the effect twice as strong in men as compared to women.

Also, in contrast to women, men rated the post-slideshow face images as more attractive after they had browsed through dating versus dessert slideshows. The results indicate that a dating context activates male attraction to faces in a general sense.

Matching Matters

But reciprocation matters as well as novelty. Sculley et al. discovered that single women (as compared with single men) were less attracted to the same face when they saw it a second time—but only when they imagined not forming a “match” with any dates in the slideshow. The team also found that following slideshows, novel faces were found to be more attractive than familiar faces, more to men than women, and this preference for novelty was stronger in both genders after they imagined “matching” with desired romantic dates.

Visual familiarity does not necessarily breed liking when people have the autonomy to choose, the authors observe. A larger selection of online potential partners can undermine commitment at different points, such as when browsing profiles or when deciding whether to have a second date, because users may become oriented toward an “optimal” romantic partner given a plethora of potentially available alternatives.

It's ironic that positive experience online could ultimately have negative effects on romantic choice. Perhaps it is not surprising that many meet online but fall in love in person, during a healthy period of relationship building, where real people get to know, cherish, and respect the person behind the persona.

An Abundance of Riches Does Not Always Pay Off

Perhaps more is not always better when it comes to viewing potential partner profiles. Filtering results might be a smart selection strategy in order to increase the chances of finding an appropriate pairing. Online dating might present an abundance of riches in terms of prospects, but finding the right romantic match is priceless.

Facebook image: SB Arts Media/Shutterstock


[i] Sculley, Jordan R., Kay L. Ritchie, and Christopher D. Watkins. 2021. “Having Options Alters the Attractiveness of Familiar versus Novel Faces: Sex Differences and Similarities.” Computers in Human Behavior 124 (November). doi:10.1016/j.chb.2021.106937.