- The choice overload effect explains how having too many options can be overwhelming.
- In online dating, people who are asked to choose among multiple profiles are less satisfied with their decisions about who to date.
- For the best results, take a “quality over quantity” approach by limiting your swiping.
One of the main benefits of online dating is that it provides access to a seemingly endless stream of potential partners. Thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to choose your next partner from the handful of single people you happen to know, and you get more of a say in who you decide to date. But could all of those choices also be part of the problem with online dating? Could giving yourself too many options actually be inhibiting your search for a relationship?
Choice Overload Effect
As consumers, we’ve come to expect choices in all aspects of our lives. Whether we’re deciding which movie to rent on Apple TV or where to order dinner from on DoorDash, even the smallest purchases often require us to choose among multiple options. Although this may seem desirable, research on the choice overload effect suggests that too many options can be overwhelming and not necessarily to our advantage. Back in the early 2000s, Iyengar and Lepper conducted a study in which they observed grocery store shoppers engaging with a tasting booth containing a limited set of six or an extensive array of 24 flavors of gourmet jam. When the booth had more flavors on display, shoppers were more likely to stop and look, but less likely to commit to purchasing any of the jams. And while it might appear that a study involving jam would have little to do with relationships, a similar effect can occur in online dating.
Choice overload can be a problem in online dating because of the unprecedented quantity of partners there are to choose from. You might reasonably expect to encounter more people after swiping for one day on Tinder than you would normally meet in a lifetime of dating face-to-face. In one experiment, D’Angelo and Toma found that people who had more options when selecting a partner in online dating were less satisfied with their choices and more likely to reverse their decisions than those who were shown fewer profiles. It’s also possible that, over time, the number of options available in online dating could negatively affect relationships by making partners seem disposable and sending the message that someone better is always just a swipe away. In our own research, we’ve found people sometimes struggle with knowing when to quit online dating and commit to someone, thus forgoing other alternatives in a partner.
Quality Versus Quantity
In response, some online dating platforms are using algorithms to focus your attention on a smaller set of recommended profiles, while others like Tinder will let you swipe away until you’ve exhausted all of your options. If you’re on Tinder and burning through profiles so quickly that you begin to ask, “Didn’t I already swipe left on that person?” then you probably need a better strategy. According to Helen Fisher, chief scientific advisor for Match.com (which is owned by the same parent company as Tinder), it’s best to stop swiping once you’ve reached nine matches. Why nine? Because nine profiles should be enough to give yourself options without being cognitively taxing. In our current dating culture, we always seem to want more—more matches, more messages, more dates. However, true success in online dating is more likely to come from the quality of connections than from the quantity of options.
D’Angelo, J. D., & Toma, C. L. (2017). There are plenty of fish in the sea: The effects of choice overload and reversibility on online daters’ satisfaction with selected partners. Media Psychology, 20(1), 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/15213269.2015.1121827
Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 995–1006. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1245
Sharabi, L. L., & Timmermans, E. (2021). Why settle when there are plenty of fish in the sea? Rusbult’s investment model applied to online dating. New Media & Society, 23(10), 2926–2946. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820937660
Tiffany, K. (2019, March 18). The Tinder algorithm, explained. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2019/2/7/18210998/tinder-algorithm-swiping-tips-dat…