A new study has found that internet dating could potentially help in eliminating racial differences in romance.
The study, conducted by UC San Diego sociologist Kevin Lewis, analyzes, over a two-and-a-half month period, the interaction patterns of 126,134 users in the US of the popular dating site OkCupid.com.
The study results in a nutshell: Race still matters online. People still self-segregate as much as they do in face-to-face interactions; most, that is, still reach out to members of their own racial background.
But people are more likely to reciprocate a cross-race overture than previous research would lead to us to expect.
And – once they have replied to a suitor from a different race – people are then themselves more likely to cross racial lines and initiate interracial contact in the future.
Lewis’s study of romantic social networks considered only heterosexual interactions, and only those individuals, for the sake of simplicity, who self-identify with one and only one of the top five most populous of OkCupid’s racial categories: Black, White, Asian (East Asian), Hispanic/Latino and Indian (South Asian).
He analyzed only the first message sent and the first reply. All messages were stripped of content.
Only data on the sender, receiver and timestamp of the message were available.
The tendency to initiate contact within one’s own race, the study observes, is strongest among Asians and Indians and weakest among whites.
And the biggest “reversals” are observed among groups that display the greatest tendency towards in-group bias, and also when a person is being contacted by someone from a different racial background for the first time.
Lewis unites his varied findings with an explanation he calls “pre-emptive discrimination.”
Based on a lifetime of experiences in a racist and racially segregated society, people anticipate discrimination on the part of a potential recipient and are largely unwilling to reach out in the first place, but if a person of another race expresses interest in them first, their assumptions are falsified and they are more willing to take a chance on people of that race in the future, he said.
The sociologist’s cautiously optimistic conclusion is that “racial boundaries are more fragile than we think.”
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.