Online Dating: Is the Stigma Gone?

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Romance and dating has gone digital; It's the second most-popular way of connecting, surpassed only by meeting people through friends.  But, researchers caution, Internet dating is not scientific, and singles should not waste their time on websites that charge for their services.

A review of 400 psychology studies and public interest surveys was commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science and will be published in the February edition of its journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

"Online dating has entered the mainstream, and it is fast shedding any lingering social stigma," said researchers from the University of Rochester, Northwestern, Texas A&M, UCLA and Illinois State.

Dating sites don't have "published, peer-reviewed papers" to explain their methodology, and they do not explain in sufficient detail how people are matched, said the researchers.

"There is no particular reason for people to use sites that charge a lot of money to offer something they cannot deliver," said co-author Harry Reis, a nationally known relationship expert and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.

However, he said online dating does provide wider opportunities to meet people.

"The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health," he said.

When dating online, it's fine to rule out those who have unsuitable habits, such as smoking, or belong to a different religion, but beyond that, making a check list, "leaves out the magic another person can bring to you," said Reiss.

"We suggest they try not to have the shopping mentality and not view alternative people the same way they do a pair of pants," he said.

Instead of checking off the different qualities to look for in a mate, imagine talking to the person or going on a vacation with them, he said.

And don't look at more than a "handful" of profiles in a given city. "With 250 profiles to go through in 20 minutes, you can't have a check list," said Reiss.

As for what makes a good match, "You can't quantify it," Reiss said.  "You can define it, but we do not know how it occurs and where it comes from. ... Science isn't there yet."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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