Some people crow that Americans live in a postracial society. But there are two institutions that consistently prove this not to be the case: the Internet and the dating world, where studies show you’re more likely to seek mates who share your racial background. So it follows that online dating would tend to be racially segregated as well.
Fortunately, a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that online daters’ bias against interracial dating can be easily overcome. The findings suggest that people tend not to reach out to someone of a different racial background not because of prejudice, but simply out of fear of rejection.
The author of the study, UC San Diego sociologist Kevin Lewis, examined 126,000 interactions between new OkCupid users over the course of two and a half months. What he found was that most OkC users, especially members of minority groups, tend to send messages to members of their own race or ethnic group (Asian women, who were more likely to contact white males than Asian males, were the sole exception to this rule).
Lewis determined, however, that once an OkC user had been approached by a user of another race—like, say, a white male receiving a message from a black female—they were far more likely to respond to other overtures from that person, or reach out to other members of that ethnic group. In other words, OkCupid users were less likely to initiate contact with a member of another race, but more likely to respond if the other party had initiated contact first, or if they’d had an interaction with a person of another race in the past.
In a summary of his findings, Lewis attributes this trend of not initiating interracial contact with other online daters to “preemptive discrimination,” meaning the unconscious expectation that someone who doesn’t share the same racial background as you will be less likely to have anything else in common with you as well.
But Lewis’s data suggests that if people overcome their fear of rejection from members of other races, they’re more likely to have positive interracial dating experiences, and start considering a more diverse pool of potential mates. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that OkCupid is on the verge of becoming a post-racial utopia, but if people start taking the first step to overcome their biases, it might be closer to a reality than we might think.
H/T Time | Photo via Matt Radick/Flickr