Wayne State University

Love at first site? Wayne State receives NSF grant to explore impact of online dating

DETROIT With nearly ninety percent of Americans utilizing the internet, the use of online dating websites has grown tremendously since the launch of the first online dating service in 1995.

Today, Americans find it more culturally acceptable to look for a potential partner online and one-in-five adults between the ages of 25 to 34 have used online dating services.

With the help of a 3.5 year-long, $851,462 grant from the National Science Foundation, a team of Wayne State University researchers is exploring how the relational landscape in America is being affected by the rise of online dating. The project, “The impact of online technologies on interpersonal communication and perceptions,” will explore how the increasing use of popular online dating technologies affects how people develop romantic connections.

Stephanie Tong, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State, is leading the team. She has been studying the association between romantic dating and computer-mediated communication, and with this grant, will explore the social implications of the rise of online dating.

“Online dating is one of the most popular ways for single Americans to meet a romantic partner,” said Tong. “We’re interested in looking at how updated online dating technology affects the ways people initiate relationships and the ways they make decisions; when they decide who to date, and whether or not to pursue the relationship.”

The project also will provide new insights regarding the ways that online dating systems are designed to facilitate interpersonal contact, impact the self-concepts of the people who use them, and it may provide new information and insights that can facilitate improvements to the design of popular forms of social computing technology. Although this project focuses on online dating systems, project findings may provide more generalizable insights regarding the complex interactions between communications media and the content of constitutions as well as their impact on communicators in many other contexts.

Tong and the research team that includes Richard Slatcher, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Wayne State, and Jeffrey Hancock, Ph.D., professor of communication at Stanford University, will focus on people’s perceptions of these systems versus the mathematical workings of these systems.

“What we are really interested in is people’s attitudes and opinions of the algorithms of these systems, and how they affect the decisions they make, and how these decisions are going to change the relational landscape over time,” said Tong.

The investigators will use scientific experiments, participant interviews and behavioral measurements to investigate how people evaluate information communicated by algorithmic and human sources when making attributions within online systems. They will also investigate if people recognize how technology influences their decisions and attributions in the online communication process, and how online platforms that produce a wealth of feedback to participants create feedback loops that affect individuals' self-concept.

“There are many features of online dating websites that come from algorithmic selection or curation, such as where do people focus their attention, and do they focus it more on machine-generated information or human-generated information, such as profiles,” said Tong.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation, award number 1520723.

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About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://research.wayne.edu.