Looking Online for the Best Romantic Partner
Reduces Decision Quality: The Moderating Role
of Choice-Making Strategies
Mu-Li Yang, Ph.D.,
and Wen-Bin Chiou, Ph.D.
The Internet has become a means by which people expand their social networks and form close relationships.
Wu and Chiou (2009) demonstrated that more search options triggered excessive searching, leading to poorer
decision making and reduced selectivity in ﬁnding partners for online romantic relationships. Regarding the
more-means-worse effect, they argued that more searching leads to worse choices by reducing users’ cognitive
resources, distracting them with irrelevant information, and reducing their ability to screen out inferior options.
Expanding Simon’s (1955) seminal theory, this research compared choice-making strategies of maximizers and
satisﬁcers on excessive searching, quality of ﬁnal decisions, and selectivity. One hundred twelve adolescents
with experiences of online romantic relationships participated in an experimental study. Participants were
administered a scale that measured maximizing tendencies and were then assigned to receive either a small or a
large number of options. Results indicated that the participants with high maximizing tendencies (i.e., maxi-
mizers) showed more pronounced searching than did those with low maximizing tendencies (i.e., satisﬁcers).
The negative effect of excessive searching on decision-making was more prominent for maximizers than for
satisﬁcers in terms of ﬁnal choices and selectivity. These ﬁndings reveal that adopting maximizing strategies
may increase vulnerability stemming from excessive searching when a large number of choices are available.
Online social interactions have become one of the
predominant reasons for Internet use.
As online social
and personal relationships become more prevalent,
ing and building interpersonal romantic relationships in cy-
berspace is an important issue. Previous studies have
investigated the prevalence and demographics of Internet
the quality of relationships formed,
and the psychological correlates of
but they have rarely investigated how Internet users
select cyber friends for romantic relationships from a cogni-
Online social networking sites provide search tools to en-
able members to ﬁnd and evaluate the cyber proﬁles of their
friends and other people they might know. These tools ap-
pear to reduce the effort required by users to ﬁnd potential
partners and to help them make good predictions about the
ﬁt of any given individual to their romantic preferences.
However, Wu and Chiou
demonstrated that more options
triggered excessive searching and decreased the quality of
choices made. From a cognitive information-processing per-
spective, having access to more possible partners triggered
additional searches, thus partially undoing the effort-saving
beneﬁt of search. Several reasons have been proposed for this
‘‘more-means-worse’’ effect in which more searching results
in worse choices being made. First, considering a large set of
options may increase cognitive load, leading individuals to
In addition, when searchers’ cognitive re-
sources are reduced by more searches, they may be less likely
to ignore irrelevant information and more likely to be dis-
tracted or attracted by attributes that were not pertinent to
their original preferences.
Moreover, searching through
more options may lead users to accelerate processing by re-
ducing the amount of time spent on each alternative proﬁle.
Such self-induced time pressure can lessen users’ ability to
distinguish between better and worse options.
Half a century ago, Simon
introduced an important
distinction between maximizing and satisﬁcing as choice-
making strategies. To maximize is to seek the best and re-
quires an exhaustive search of all possibilities. To satisﬁce
is to seek ‘‘good enough,’’ searching until encountering an
Department of Mass Communication, Chang Jung Christian University, Tainan, Taiwan, Republic of China.
Institute of Education, National Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Republic of China.
Volume 13, Number 0, 2009
ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc.
CPB-2009-0208-Yang_1P.3D 10/09/09 2:25am Page 1
option that crosses the threshold of acceptability. Expanding
on Simon’s classic theory, Schwartz et al.
about recent purchasing decisions and used a maximization
scale to measure individual differences in maximizing ten-
dencies. Compared with satisﬁcers, maximizers were more
likely to engage in an exhaustive search of all available op-
tions. Such differences in the subjective choice-making ex-
periences of maximizers and satisﬁcers are attributed to the
fact that maximizers create a more onerous choice-making
process for themselves. Initially, maximizers focus on in-
creasing their choice sets by exploring multiple options,
presumably because expanded choice sets allow greater op-
portunity to seek out and ﬁnd the elusive best option. Yet as
the number of options proliferates, cognitive limitations
prevent decision making because it becomes impossible to
evaluate and compare all of the options.
Given the principle that more options might lead to more
searching and then result in worse choices,
sized that maximizers would be more likely than satisﬁcers to
employ excessive searching and that they would be more
vulnerable to the negative effect of excessive searching on
decision making. An experimental study was conducted to
examine whether choice-making strategies would moderate
the effects of available options on excessive searching and
decision making in the context of ﬁnding partners for online
Participants and design
Participants were 112 teenagers and late adolescents from
southern Taiwan (58 males; aged 15 to 23 years, M¼17.49,
SD ¼2.69) who were single and members of an online-friends
Web site. They were recruited from the participant pool of an
online gaming-addiction survey supported by the National
Science Council of Taiwan and were selected using a
Participants were submitted to a
22 (number of available options: large or small number of
options by choice-making strategies: maximizers or satisﬁ-
cers) between-participants design.
The present study modeled Wu and Chiou’s
investigate the moderating role of choice-making strategies
on the more-means-worse effect. To disguise its actual pur-
pose, the experiment was presented as a study on ‘‘Finding
Your Best Partner for a Romantic Relationship.’’ Participants
were asked to search for their most desirable romantic part-
ners using the search tool of an online-dating Web site,
available through Yahoo Taiwan. Each participant ﬁrst en-
tered the characteristics of his or her ideal partner in terms of
16 conditions (i.e., age, height, weight, educational level,
vocation, smoking habits, drinking habits, religion, geo-
graphical area, horoscope, blood type, appearance, person-
ality, interests, travel preferences, food preferences). The data
were used to compute the preference difference scores be-
tween desirable partners and ﬁnal choices. Participants then
completed a scale that measured maximizing strategies.
Later, participants saw a list of recommended partners
given by the search engine. The list was characterized by brief
titles and nicknames, forcing participants to view the entire
proﬁle of each recommended partner to assess the goodness-
of-match. Participants read the explanation of the search
engine’s ranked list of recommended partners. They were
randomly assigned to view either small or large numbers of
available proﬁles (i.e., the top 40 or the top 80 rankings from
the recommended list). They were asked to review the
available proﬁles to choose their target partner for a romantic
relationship. After the choice was made, participants were
given the background information about this experiment.
Participants completed 11 maximization items drawn from
Schwartz et al.
(e.g., ‘‘When I am in the car listening to the
radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is
playing, even if I am relatively satisﬁed with what I’m lis-
tening to’’ and ‘‘When shopping, I have a hard time ﬁnding
clothes that I really love’’). Each item was rated on a scale
from 1, strongly disagree,to9,strongly agree. The Cronbach’s
alpha was 0.89 in the present study.
The median-split method was employed to classify par-
ticipants into maximizers or satisﬁcers in terms of their
choice-making strategies. The median score on the maxi-
mizing tendencies scale was 5.30. Fifty-six participants were
assigned to the maximizers group, and 56 were assigned to
the satisﬁcers group.
Number of available options
The recommended list screened by the search engine al-
ways provided hundreds of proﬁles. However, a preliminary
survey before the formal experiment (N¼78) indicated that
users of online-dating Web sites generally would not review
more than 100 proﬁles during a single search session for
online romantic relationships.
In addition, the study by Wu
demonstrated a linear trend in the effect of the
number of available options (i.e., the top 30 rankings, the top
60, or the top 90). Hence, this research only manipulated
small (top 40 ranking subjects) and large (top 80 rankings)
numbers of available options. Different numbers of options
were employed as an independent variable in order to ex-
pand the generalizability of the ﬁndings. As a manipulation
check, participants were asked to rate the perceived number
of available options they received on a 9-point scale from 1,
very few,to9,very many. A independent ttest showed that
participants perceived the ‘‘large number’’ condition,
M¼7.68, SD ¼0.77, to have more options than they did the
‘‘small number’’ condition, M¼2.29, SD ¼1.12; t(110) ¼29.69,
First, the search ratio was measured by dividing the
number of available options by the number of unique proﬁles
examined to determine whether providing more options
triggered more searching. Second, the goodness-of-match of
each target option was determined by measuring the differ-
ences between the scores of each participant’s most desired
characteristics and the characteristics of the selected option.
Possible scores for this preference difference ranged from 0 to
16, because we employed a dichotomous scale (0 ¼match;
1¼mismatch) for each of the 16 characteristics. Greater
preference differences represented worse choices. Finally, the
2 YANG AND CHIOU
CPB-2009-0208-Yang_1P.3D 10/09/09 2:25am Page 2
selectivity measure determined whether more attention was
devoted to better alternatives and less attention to worse al-
ternatives. The selectivity was computed for each participant
according to the method employed by Wu and Chiou,
is, the time spent reviewing an option (in minutes, recorded
to two decimal places) was regressed on the ‘‘match score’’ for
that option. The match score was computed by the sum of
match characteristics of a subject rated on a dichotomous
scale (0 ¼mismatch; 1 ¼match; possible scores ranged from 0
to 16). More positive unstandardized regression coefﬁcients
indicated that a participant spent more time evaluating the
options with high goodness-of-match scores, implying better
Participants’ performance in terms of the three dependent
measures (searching ratio, the preference difference for the
chosen option, and selectivity; see
T1 cTable 1) were submitted to
a22 (number of available options: small or large number of
options by choice-making strategies: maximizers or satisﬁ-
cers) between-participants model. ANOVAs were conducted
on the three dependent variables separately. Regarding dif-
ferences in the searching ratio of maximizers and satisﬁcers, a
robust main effect of choice-making strategies was observed,
F(1, 108) ¼820.02, p<0.001, Z
¼0.88. Participants with high
maximizing tendencies exhibited a higher searching ratio,
M¼0.86, SD ¼0.04, than did participants with low maxi-
mizing tendencies, M¼0.65, SD ¼0.05, regardless of the
number of available options, F(1, 108) ¼1.71, p>0.05. This
ﬁnding was congruent with the salient characteristics of
maximizers in making decisions
and also indicated that
the measure of maximizing tendencies was valid. In addition,
a main effect of number of available options was observed,
F(1, 108) ¼820.02, p<0.001, Z
¼0.88, indicating that more
proﬁles were examined as more options were provided; this
also echoed the ﬁndings by Wu and Chiou.
As to the preference difference score of the chosen subject,
the main effect of number of available options indicated that
more options led to worse choices, F(1, 108) ¼244.74,
¼0.69, which also replicated the previous ﬁnding
by Wu and Chiou.
More importantly, a signiﬁcant interac-
tion between choice-making strategies and number of avail-
able options was observed, F(1, 108) ¼50.98, p<0.01,
¼0.32. Further analyses indicated that the preference dif-
ference scores were more affected by the number of available
options for maximizers, M
54) ¼277.20, p<0.001, Z
¼0.84, than for satisﬁcers, M
(4.75); F(1, 54) ¼33.99, p<0.001, Z
Selectivity in the context of this experiment refers to whe-
ther greater attention is allocated to better alternatives and is
indicated by more positive individual regression coefﬁcients.
In accordance with the ﬁnding by Wu and Chiou
pants’ selectivity was affected by the number of available
options, F(1, 108) ¼46.19, p<0.001, Z
¼0.30. This ﬁnding
indicated that more available options led to reduced selec-
tivity, revealing that participants’ selectivity was better under
the condition of a small number of available options,
M¼1.01, SD ¼0.15, and worse with a large number of op-
tions, M¼0.83, SD ¼0.18. A similar pattern was observed in
the interaction between choice-making strategies and number
of available options, F(1, 108) ¼14.63, p<0.001, Z
Further analyses indicated that the effect of number of
available options on selectivity was more pronounced for
(0.97); F(1, 54) ¼63.03,
¼0.54, whereas the effect was only marginally
signiﬁcant for satisﬁcers, M
54) ¼4.00, p<0.05, Z
Search tools on social networking Web sites may allow
users to ﬁnd better preference matches from large datasets.
However, our ﬁndings support earlier research by Wu and
and indicate that more options trigger additional
searches, thus partially undoing the effort-saving beneﬁt of
Furthermore, the more-means-worse effect
was more prominent for maximizers than for satisﬁcers. To
maximize is to seek the best and requires an exhaustive search
of all possibilities. When maximizers’ cognitive resources are
reduced by more searches, they may be less likely to ignore
irrelevant information and more likely to be distracted by or
attracted to attributes that are not pertinent to their original
Identifying the best from a large dataset of
considerations becomes increasingly difﬁcult, compelling
maximizers to rely on external rather than internal standards
to evaluate and select outcomes.
Furthermore, the inevita-
bility of trade-offs among attractive options intensiﬁes the
sting of passing up one attractive alternative when choosing
a more attractive one. The above reasons explain, from a
Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations of the Measures
Small number of
Large number of
Small number of
Large number of
Measures Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Searching ratio 0.84 0.03 0.89 0.03 0.63 0.06 0.66 0.04
Preference difference of the chosen option 5.64 1.37 10.71 0.85 4.75 1.32 6.64 1.10
Selectivity 0.97 0.15 0.70 0.10 1.04 0.14 0.96 0.15
n¼28 for each experimental condition.
Search ratio ranged from 0 to 1.00. Preference difference scores for the chosen option ranged from 0 to 16 by the sum of the mismatch
characteristics of the selected subject.
The selectivity measure was obtained by each participant’s time spent inspecting a subject’s proﬁle regressed on the match score of that
subject. More positive regression coefﬁcients represent greater selectivity.
CHOICE-MAKING STRATEGIES AND SEARCH BIAS 3
CPB-2009-0208-Yang_1P.3D 10/09/09 2:25am Page 3
cognitive-processing perspective, why maximizers suffer
from worse decision making than that of satisﬁcers.
In considering the limitations of this study and possible
future directions, it is noteworthy that maximizing tendencies
were treated as a global individual difference measure. It may
well be that maximizing search strategies are used for speciﬁc
kinds of decision-making tasks and are not a general tendency
for all decision-making tasks. Investigations of other decision-
making tasks (e.g., a job-searching process) may determine
whether maximizing tendencies are global or speciﬁc. Other
factors that might also trigger more searching and lead to
worse choices have not been examined. For example, accuracy
motivation can lead to more systematic processing and de-
crease susceptibility to biases.
Future studies may examine
whether accuracy motivation would produce even more ex-
cessive searching in seeking out romantic partners for online
relationships. Finally, Schwartz et al.
maximizing tendencies were positively correlated with regret,
depression, and decision difﬁculty. It would be interesting to
examine whether maximizers are less satisﬁed than satisﬁcers
and experience greater negative affect with the partners they
select through excessive searching.
The search tools of online-dating sites provide users with a
convenient way to search for potential romantic partners with
whom to build and develop online relationships. However, a
large number of available options may induce more searches,
and this may in turn lead to worse choices and poor selec-
tivity. Moreover, adopting a maximizing strategy appears to
expand the detrimental effect of excessive searching on in-
formation processing and decision making. Maximizers
should pay more attention to the negative consequences that
stem from search tools’ providing too much choice and
should use the search tools constructively to tailor their
decision-making criteria. When more searching is carried out
on online-dating sites, maximizers may neither get what they
want nor want what they get.
The authors would like to thank the National Science
Council of the Republic of China for ﬁnancially supporting
this research (contract No. NSC 98-2511-S-110-001-MY2).
No competing ﬁnancial interests exist.
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Address correspondence to:
Dr. Wen-Bin Chiou
Institute of Education
National Sun Yat-Sen University
70 Lien-Hai Rd.
Kaohsiung City, Taiwan 80424
Republic of China
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