The Love in Decision Making: Why thinking with your heart is really thinking with your head

Dr Diane Leung

Gone are the days where you only socialise with people in your village and are too scared to ask the girl next door out on a date. As the digital age evolves, communication has become fast and easy, pulling people from all over the world together in the space of just a few clicks. With millions of users worldwide, online dating is a craze that has swept us away.

From free apps to paid subscriptions, casual dating to exclusive memberships, the variety of dating sites out there ensures that there is something for everyone. However, the ease of online matchmaking comes with concerns about safety, satisfaction and stress. How do we decide how much we like someone simply based on a photo and a one line description on their profile? With apps like Tinder that have 50 million people using the app every month (based on figures from 2015), how do we decide who is worthwhile to invest our time on?

The problems humans have with decision-making has always existed, so will increasing the number of potential date choices we have make it easier or harder to find our better half? Firstly, we must consider the choice paradox…

1. The choice paradox

Humans are animals full of irony and contradiction. When we are presented with too many options we have difficulty in deciding what is best, at the same time when we are only presented with a few options we complain about how little options we have available.

Psychological studies have shown people value choice as it activates regions in the brain (the striatum) which is associated with motivation and reward. Also by keeping choices opened, it prevents loss aversion (tendency for people to prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains). In the example of the ‘Door Game’, participants were firstly asked to select one of three doors which corresponds to different rooms. After entering each room they can choose to click inside the room for an unknown amount of money or choose to go to a different room. Each room had a different range of money available. The twist here is that each participant were only given 100 clicks so they had to strategise which rooms to click.

(Shin, J., & Ariely, D. (2004). Keeping doors open: The effect of unavailability on incentives to keep options viable. Management Science, 50, 575–586)


The best strategy to take for the ‘Door Game’ is of course to find the room that looks like it has the highest payouts and stay there for the rest of the game, and this is indeed what most of the participants did. However, in the first variation of the experiment where participants were told a room will disappear after 12 clicks if unvisited, people clicked to make sure all doors stayed open throughout the game (thus making about 15 percent less money than the control group). More interestingly, in the second variation, where participants were told the exact payouts of the rooms, people still tried to keep all the doors open!

The results from the experiment showed how people overvalued their options and even invested money to keep their options open. If so, does this mean the endless options on online dating would actually make it harder for people to abandon people they don’t really like and focus on those who have more potential? Some psychologists disagree, as there is also something called choice overload, which is even worse…

Choice overload is when people avoid making a decision altogether as it requires too much cognitive effect. This happens when there are too many choices and people do not have the ability to compare and contrast all the options available. For example, people are 10 times more likely to buy from a tasting booth display with 6 jam flavours compared to 24 as there are fewer choices [1].

2. The dating circle

So does the size of the dating circle affect people’s choices and their experiences? Here are some of the key findings on user experiences between small and large choice set sizes [2]:

As we can see, when the number of potential partners available increases, people’s’ decision-making changes. Of course there are issues about communication methods and dating outcomes as well which we will not discuss in this article. Nonetheless, it is clear that this new form of matchmaking has changed the way we view dating and can have its advantages and disadvantages.

So how can the theory of choice paradox be applied to improve online dating sites? With numerous online dating websites out there, a business needs to stand out from the rest in order to optimize their conversion rates. Based on the choice paradox, people should be presented with a limited number of choices, but just enough to keep them on the hook so they ask for more.

3. Conversion rate optimization for dating websites

Users are spoilt for choice when it comes to signing up to online dating sites, therefore knowing your target audience is very important when considering improvements for your site. It is much better to target specific people than to send generic messages out to everyone. Below are some examples of how the top dating sites succeed in the market:

Keep the landing page simple. For, their landing page has only got a clear CTA with no copy, making it clear what the user should do.

Once you are signed in onto the site, there are only a limited number of profiles in view so the user would not be overloaded with options. Users can see more options by scrolling down but keeps this to a minimum by having a maximum of 4 profiles per row.

Again the page here is simple, with a clear CTA. Three features of the site are clearly displayed to add an element of persuasion. Notice the second feature that says Okcupid’s ‘super-smart algorithm uses your answers to discover people you’ll like’. This is appealing because it reduces the number of choices a user has to make.

Like, once the user is signed in they are presented with a list of candidates that increases as you scroll down. There are only three profiles in view each time and the percentage underneath each profile shows your compatibility, making the decision process easier.

Similar to the other two sites, has a clear CTA on its landing page and has a Registered Trademark sign on its logo to add an element of trust.

Interestingly, below the fold for the site, there is actually a lot of copy which explains how eHarmony works.

Once you open an account, you are presented with the various subscription options in which you can choose to ignore. However, without a subscription you are unable to view the profile photos of people on the listing. By playing on the idea that people like to keep their choices open, they may pay for a subscription to see the profiles which they were not allowed to access.

4. Key Takeaways


[1] Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 995–1006.

[2] Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1), 3-66.


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