One of the primary activities of social life is forming
relationships, whether as business associates, friends,
lovers, or life-long companions. Assessing the
identity of the other is key question of this process:
who is this person? What are their beliefs and
history? What will be our future together?
We rely on signals to answer these questions.
Applicants’ resumes can be read as signals of their
ability to do job; a man’s adroitness at opening doors
may be interpreted as a signal of his innate courtesy.
These signals are of varying reliability (the resume may be
padded) and subjectivity (the door opening interpreted
instead as a signal of reflexive sexism). The
signaling dynamics in relationships formation are complex,
for each party would like to present itself in the most
attractive light, while simultaneously being able to
rigorously assess the other.
It is becoming increasingly common to form relationships
of all kinds online. There are sites for
brokering professional relationships, for finding tennis
partners, babysitters, and renovation contractors. The
online dating sites in particular have seen an extraordinary
growth in the last few years. This chapter will
focus on dating, because the signaling literature is mainly
about mating behavior and dating is the relationship most
commonly sought online; there will, however, also be
discussion of other types of relationships
In online dating sites people are represented by profiles
consisting of a photograph and essays about who they are and
what they are seeking. The reader can sort and
filter the profiles by age, location, religion, smoking
habits, etc. The sites form a marketplace of
relationships, a market whose advantage is size. Rather than
choosing from a limited selection of known and local
candidates, the online job or marriage seeker can choose
from an immense array of possibilities, conveniently sortable across
various dimensions. The disadvantage is that the identity signals
are less reliable and less telling.
This week we will begin by looking at how signaling is used in the
formation of relationships, drawing from the rich body of literature
on this topic in both biology and evolutionary psychology.
Included in the discussion will be topics such as the perception of
attractiveness, how gifts of time and things signal the importance
of a relationship, and the impact of different long term goals on
signaling strategies. We will use this as the basis for
analyzing contemporary relationships sites and for design directions
for future sites.
||The Evolution of Desire ch 5
|Ellison, N., Heino, R., & Gibbs, J.
||Managing impressions online: Self-presentation processes in the online dating environment. (2006). Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), article 2.
|Geoffrey F. Miller
|Raymond Fisman, Sheena Iyengar, Emir Kamenica, & Itamar Simonson
||Gender Differences in Mate Selection: Evidence from a Speed Dating Experiment Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2006.
|[optional] Gangestad, S. W. and G. J. Scheyd.
||The evolution of human physical attractiveness. 2005. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 523-548.
|[optional] Gangestad and Simpson
||The evolution of human mating: Trade-offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2000 23, 573644
|[optional] Hitsch, Guenter J., Ali Hortacsu, and Dan Ariely.
||What Makes You Click? Mate Preferences an.d Matching Outcomes in Online Dating. SSRN 2006
- Read the papers
- Explore an online dating site - match.com,
nerve.com, etc. - a search in google for "online
dating" will yield lots. Think about what qualities are
people trying to assess, what are the signals they are using
to do so.
- Describe the process in terms of signaling.
- What are the costs of writing a profile - terms
of effort? money (here are some notes on how pay sites impose useful costs)?
- What are the costs of including a photo? What is the function of the photo? Is physical appearance a signal or a quality - and is that different than its function in the face to face world?
- What are the costs to the receivers? What are the assessment signals in these sites? What signals denote qualites main by convention?
- What are some kinds of deception that could occur (if you can't think of any, trying searching for "online bad dates")? What mechanisms are in place now for minimizing this?
- Answer the following questions:
- Choose an attraction strategy discussed by Buss
or Miller (e.g. creation of impressive artwork, denigrating
rivals, etc. ). Can you find examples of this on an online
site? If not, why not? How does the design of the site
suport or make diffcult this strategy? How could a site
be designed to allow different strategies than the current
ones do? (Think broadly - a site could incorporates tasks,
games, etc - what would make a difference in terms of
signaling and reliabilty?)
- Could information be shared among the
participants? Would this be helpful? How could you redesign
the system to allow for this? Think about the reputation
systems we discussed in class. How would this impose costs
on deception? What would make it reliable? What would
motivate people to use it? Sites such as
http://www.greatboyfriends.com/ provide warnings and
recommendations (respectively) - what motivates people
here? are these reliable?
- How is dating similar or different from other
types of "people markets"? Any employment
situation is potentially such a market, as is the market for
tennis partners, book club members, etc. The costs of
deception differ in these cases, as do the structure of the
market (are there repeated interactions? is information
likely to be shared? what is the relationship among
your essays by Monday midday.