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Looking for love? Check with online dating expert Dr. Jess

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Sociology doctoral student Jessica Carbino discusses dating and sex on the "TakePart Live" television show.
“Welcome lovers and friends. This is Dr. Jess, and you are listening to ‘Hookup with Dr. Jess,’ your show about sex, dating and relationships from a fun and scientific perspective.”
 
Thus begins sociology doctoral student Jessica Carbino’s weekly UCLA Radio show, an hour's worth of such fascinating features as body language and dating and having sex with exes, a Hollywood report on celebrity relationships and interviews with a skilled matchmaker and an expert on domestic violence.
 
“I love talking about dating and relationships,” said Carbino, whose passion for public forums on the subject of romance stems from the fact that love relationships are a central concern for almost all of us. And while she’s a serious researcher working on a dissertation on the dynamics of online dating, she’s candid about her hopes to parlay her scholarly smarts and perky personality into a TV show all her own.
 
In addition to her research in UCLA’s Department of Sociology in the College of Letters and Science, Carbino also writes articles for the Huffington Post, comments in national magazines like the New Yorker and appears regularly on the Pivot TV network show, “TakePart Live.”
 
A recipient of the UCLA Chancellor’s Prize in 2009 and research grants from the likes of the National Science Foundation, Carbino delves into online dating using data from 3,500 users of online dating sites as well as interviews and focus groups. Under the guidance of a dissertation committee chaired by sociology professor William Roy, she anticipates completing her research this coming summer in her drive to make official the “Dr.” in her radio title.
 
Carbino chose her research topic after using an online dating site herself. A native of New York who earned a B.A. in political science from Emory University before entering graduate school at UCLA, Carbino moved to L.A. when she was 23 years old and asked herself that perennial question of the unattached,  “How am I going to meet somebody?”
 
She signed on with JDate, an online dating site for people seeking Jewish partners, and found herself intrigued. “I’d always been interested in the eternal question of ‘What do men and women want?” she said. As her dating future unfolded before her on a computer monitor, she found herself wondering what exactly appealed to her in certain men’s profiles, and why some men responded and some didn’t when she sent them emails expressing interest in connecting. From this, her curosity grew, leading to other questions about, as she puts it, “meeting and mating in the 21st century.”
 
Millions of Americans are looking for love via top dating sites like eHarmony, OKCupid, Match and JDate, to name some of the most popular of the more than 3,000 online dating sites in the United States. According to an October 2013 report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, 38 percent of Americans who are currently single and actively looking for a partner have used online dating sites or mobile apps. Two-thirds of them have gone on a date with people they met through these sites, and nearly one in four have met a spouse or long-term partner through an online dating site.
 
“Online dating has changed the landscape of what was conventionally considered to be a more in-person interaction — picking someone to date from people you met at a bar or in the workplace, or Aunt Esther setting you up with her podiatrist’s son,” Carbino said. “People are living farther apart from family and friends who are not available to create those connections. So if you want to meet somebody, and are determined to do so, this is an effective means because it’s efficient.”
 
The digital underpinnings of online dating make these interactions transparent — and ideal for Carbino’s research. “I’ve been curious about how men and women select their partners,” she said. “Now we have a tangible way of understanding it. I can actually observe who’s messaging whom, and who’s responding. You can understand what people actually want, at least in a behavioral way.”
 
Carbino produces her own weekly UCLA Radio show, "Hookup with Dr. Jess."
A major distinction of online dating, she noted, is that “you are able to completely and totally specify the type of person you want. You can say, 'I want somebody who’s 6 feet or taller, who is Jewish, has a graduate degree, lives within five miles of me and looks like JFK.' The dating site’s algorithm will get you pretty close to the idea of what you think you want.”
 
But “pretty close” isn’t close enough because, Carbino noted, many other factors figure in, from how honest people are in portraying themselves online to the fact that satisfying a laundry list of qualities doesn’t guarantee that sparks will fly when people meet in person. It’s these kinds of factors and others that Carbino addresses in her research that she hopes to draw on to help people better negotiate their way to true love via online dating.
 
In her most recent study, which she has dubbed “Hot or Not,” Carbino led a team of undergraduate students in ranking the facial attractiveness of her pool of 3,500 users of online dating sites. They then determined how these rankings — with a 10 assigned to those deemed most attractive and with most people falling into the 5-7 range — played into subsequent online interactions.
 
What Carbino found was that people viewing the online profiles of potential dates tend to send messages of interest to those who fall in the same range of attractiveness as they do.
 
“People intuit where they stack up on the market and where others stack up in a really meaningful way. They are only messaging people who share their same level of attractiveness — 5s are messaging 5s, and 6s are messaging 6s; 10s aren’t messaging 2s, and 2s aren’t messaging 10s.” 
 
Facial attractiveness and its relation to mating behavior have been studied before, “but no one’s looked at it in the way I am,” said Carbino. Her findings, she said, bring the factor of attractiveness into the realm of “assortative mating” — choosing a mate who is similar in factors like education, religion, race and income. Her research makes clear, she said, that “people are also mating with people who are similar to themselves in facial attractiveness.” And findings like this can help people be more successful on the dating front.
 
“Don’t waste your time messaging a supermodel if you’re not a supermodel,” Carbino advises on her radio show and in other media venues.
 
She also suggested, “Online dating is a process, and you have to be patient. You can find success and people to go out with. But when you meet somebody, you either click or you don’t.”
 
Carbino has had to practice that kind of patience herself.
 
“I’ve had some relationships from online dating,” she said, “but I’m still dating. It takes time."
 
See Carbino in this "TakePart Live" segment.
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