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Professor Sam Chan Speaks on Obstacles in Online Dating


At the first Fellow Luncheon Talk of the year, Professor Sam Chan presented his research on ‘Hyperpersonal failure: A framework for understanding obstacles in online dating’. The talk took place on Saint Valentine’s Day in Morningside College’s Small Hall and was attended by the College Master, Deans, Fellows, staff, and students.


Professor Chan is a fellow of Morningside College and conducts research on the online dating experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people. He explained that this is a relatively new field (circa 2010s) and that his research focuses on potential causes of failure at various stages of online dating, from choosing a dating app through meeting prospective partners in person. Hurdles could include insecurities related to choice abundance, racist comments, ghosting, or awkward conversation.


Professor Chan aims to contribute to the field by modelling his analysis on Joseph Walther’s 1996 framework of hyperpersonal communication. His research sample includes 30 Taiwanese lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals between the ages of nineteen to thirty-four, all of whom he met through NGOs. Following his semi-structured interviews with these people, he categorizes their experiences on the basis of obstacles afflicting the sender, the online channel, the receiver, or the feedback for senders. For example, failures on the sender side could include difficulties in self-presentation or outright deception. After the talk, Professor Chan fielded many questions from a curious audience. The audience were interested in the ethical permissibility of idealizing one’s lifestyle and appearance, as well as how Professor Chan sources participants for such a study. When asked about the utility of his research for companies that operate online dating platforms, Professor Chan explained that such companies can be leery of cooperation and unwilling to divulge information about their matchmaking algorithms. Under pressure to offer an optimistic conclusion about modern dating, Professor Chan reminded the audience that dating apps have an innate incentive to perpetuate mild disappointment rather than affording a perfect resolution.