Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Looking for Love in Mediated Places: Online Dating, Channel Choice, and Relational Satisfaction

Student Researcher(s)

Kelly Sweeney (Ph.D Candidate); Daniel Lee (Ph.D Candidate); Chris Julien (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

INTRODUCTION

Online dating sites are a convenient and strategic way for adults to locate other individuals who are seeking a romantic interest, and they are growing in popularity (Anderson et al., 2020; Ramirez et al., 2015). According to a 2019 PEW research survey, three-in-ten U.S. adults say they have ever used an online dating site or application (Anderson et al., 2020). Recent literature (Caughlin & Sharabi, 2013; Parks, 2017; Ramirez et al., 2015; Ramirez & Zhang, 2007) on the topic of online dating have exposed notable patterns relating to communication behaviors and relational outcomes. By analyzing modality switching behaviors, channel affordances, and the multiplexity effect, the present study aims to test successful online dating perspectives and explore new directions for future research.
Additionally, due to the time period this study was distributed, the study contains items relating to the Covid-19 viral outbreak. Exploratory items related to Covid-19 aim to capture changes in online dating behaviors caused by the viral outbreak. Overall, this research intends to challenge current online dating perspectives and establish future directions for research on the topic of online dating.

 

RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESES

RQ1: In the context of online dating, what is the first channel that a couple switches communication to when they initially move from the original dating platform to an alternative channel?
RQ2a: Which perceived channel affordances are associated with couples’ switching from a dating service to the next alternative communication channel?
RQ2b: Which perceived channel affordances are associated with couples’ most frequently used communication channel?
H1: The number of shared communication channels between a couple will be positively related to perceptions of relational closeness and satisfaction.
RQ3: Have precautions related to the Covid-19 viral outbreak influenced online dating behaviors and outcomes?


METHOD

Participants were recruited through Qualtrics and completed a brief online self-report survey. The final sample (N = 344) was distributed nationwide and stratified by age, gender, and region. The sample was (n = 173; 50.30%) female, (n = 169; 49.13%) male, and (n = 2; 0.006%) intersex. The average age of the sample was 44 (SD = 14.69). In general, the sample was mostly white (n = 273, 79.4%), with 10.76% reporting African-American (n= 37), 5.52% reporting Hispanic/Latinx (n= 19), and 2.24% reporting Asian (n= 8).


The online self-report survey included basic demographic questions, asked participants about a recent online dating experience, and included some exploratory questions relating to Covid-19. Questions relating to an online dating experience ask participants to recall details from a recent relationship developed through an online dating service. Measures in this section address a couple’s modality switching behaviors, use of communication channels, reasons for choosing those channels, relational closeness, and relational satisfaction. Specifically, the survey asks participants to report on the next communication channel they switched communication to outside of the original dating platform which they met a potential dating partner. Also, we about a couple’s most frequently used communication channel to compare differences between modality switching behaviors and relational outcomes. Additional questions related to Covid-19 ask participants to report on whether their online dating behaviors have changed as a result of the viral outbreak.

 

RESULTS

With regard to RQ1, we found that the next communication channel a couple switches to, after meeting on an original dating platform, is significantly related to the original dating platform they met (p < .05). Also, the most frequent channel of communication was significantly related to the next communication channel (p < .001).

RQ2 concerned observing participants’ ratings of the importance of certain channel affordances relating to their next channel and most frequent communication channel. An ANOVA revealed that the affordances social presence (p < .01) and network association (p < .001) were significantly associated with a couple’s next communication channel outside of the original dating platform. Whereas, with regards to a couples’ most frequent communication channel, the affordances of social presence (p < .05), network association (p < .001), and anonymity (p < .05) were significantly associated.

H1 was supported. Through a regression analysis, we analyzed how the number of shared communication channels available between a couple relates to ratings of relational closeness and relational satisfaction. The results support the notion that the number of shared communication channels between a couple is positively related to ratings of relational closeness (p < .01) and relational satisfaction (p < .01).

Lastly, exploratory items related to Covid-19 were analyzed by observing notable patterns in descriptive and frequencies. Of the final sample (N = 344), 197 participants reported that their online dating behaviors have changes in light of Covid-19. Specifically, participants reported spending a different amount of time on dating channels and others (N = 85; 43%) even reporting changing their preferred online dating service entirely.


CONCLUSIONS/DISCUSSION

Our findings indicate that couples who meet on online dating services utilize mediated channels often and frequently shift mediated channels when initially switching communication from a dating service to an alternative channel. Additionally, our findings indicate a couple’s next communication channel and most frequent communication channels have different affordances associated with their use. This study also found support for the media multiplexity effect. Specifically, the number of shared communication channels a couple has available was significantly related to important relational outcomes. Lastly, our data suggests that people are changing their online dating behaviors because of Covid-19. Overall, this study found notable support for current online dating perspectives and offers insight for future research to build off of.

 

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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