Online dating has some benefits, but accurate matching apparently isn't one of them. A team of researchers led by Eli Finkel of Northwestern University has concluded that despite claims that "matching algorithms" can predict long-term compatibility based on personality questionnaires and demographic information, the data dating sites collect is barely relevant to how well a couple will weather challenges or even interact. Although it can't hurt to know some basic information about your date, how two people interact is far more important, and is difficult to predict based on what sites collect. In short, you'll do about as well sending messages to random members and gauging how you get along than picking people based on high matching scores.

Although Finkel's team found that online dating was helpful at giving people opportunities to meet, he says that “developers of matching algorithms have tended to focus on the information that is easy for them to assess, like similarity in personality and attitudes, rather than the information that relationship science has found to be crucial for predicting long-term relationship well-being.” The report, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, will detail both how the team arrived at this conclusion and the general benefits and pitfalls of online dating. We doubt we're actually going to see a "panel that would grade the scientific credibility" of dating sites, as one scientist recommends, but it's a good grain of salt to take with your OKCupid or eHarmony browsing.

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