I wrote an article a few months ago about why internet dating is a bad choice for a lot of people. There’s a new study out which strongly implies that it might be even worse for atheists, but not for the reason you might think.
There’s a psychological term called Need for Cognition (NfC). It is a measure of how important it is for a person to think critically and demand reasoned arguments rather than social cues or perception of conformity. As you might imagine, in countries like America, where religion is largely propagated through emotional appeals, social conformity, and outright peer pressure, atheists tend to be people with high NfC scores.
In the latest edition of the Annual Review of CyberTherapy and Telemedicine (Summer 2010), there’s a short article on a study called The Moderating Role of Need for Cognition on Excessive Searching Bias: a Case of Finding Romantic Partners Online
(W. Chiou and M. Yang). The findings are straightforward and simple. People with high NfC scores are especially prone to the “more is worse” effect. You might remember that I wrote about a very similar effect known as the Jam Effect.
It works like this. When we are given a limited number of choices, we are usually pretty good at both committing to a choice and choosing the best option. As we increase the number of options, we tend to make poorer choices or even forgo the decision process entirely.
So, a little extrapolation tells us that “intellectual atheists” — that is, people who have come to atheism through carefully measured reason and critical thought — are less likely than most people to pick the most compatible person out of a long list, and they’re more likely to get frustrated and refuse to make any choice whatsoever.
In a very twisted sort of way, I think this is yet another great reason for atheists to come out of the closet. If you’ve been hoping to find another atheist online, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Get out and meet some atheists face to face. It’ll work out better for you.