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Online daters: Are you 'shopping' for a mate? Add to ...

Men use dating sites not unlike hungry shoppers scan grocery store shelves, according to a new meta-analysis that also reveals online dating is now the second-most popular matchmaking method, second only to meeting through friends.

The report pulls together 400 studies about online dating habits.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, caution against developing a “shopping mentality” when flipping through photos and interests on websites such as Plenty of Fish, eHarmony and Match.com.

Men were particularly voracious: A 2010 study of more than 6,000 dating site users found men browsed three times as many profiles as women – 597,169 to women’s 196,363. Men were 40 per cent more likely than women to jump start the dialogue after viewing a profile.

But both genders get exceedingly picky as they troll the sites and subsequently set unrealistic expectations ahead of a first in-person date, co-author Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, said in a release.

Although the researchers made it clear that no lovesick fool should treat dating sites as scientific, they acknowledged the industry’s astronomical growth: by one estimate, it had attracted 25 million unique users worldwide in April 2011 alone.

According to research from Stanford University, less than one per cent of the American population met a paramour through printed personal ads in the early 1990s. By 2005, 37 per cent of lovelorn Internet users said they’d dated online. Between 2007 and 2009, 22 per cent of heterosexual couples said they had found their partner through the Web - that number skyrocketed to 61 per cent for same-sex couples.

What has your experience been with online dating? Good, bad, bizarre?

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