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The researchers suggest that inflated expectations can lead to major disappointments when daters meet in person. Fantasies vanishing with knowledge is a process that hits women harder than men, said Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and one of the study's authors.“On online dates, women are much, much more disappointed than men," Norton said.

In the real world, “You’re accustomed to it being difficult to find people; you’re accustomed to meeting people and not really clicking,” Norton said.

In one study, Frost, the MIT researcher, designed an online interface in which people meet for “virtual dates.” For instance, you and a prospective date would each play an avatar and wander through an art gallery together.

Though it’s nowhere near an in-person encounter, Norton said you can get a feel for whether the person is funny or a good listener.“People also will use their avatars to flirt so you can go a little closer or a little farther away,” Norton said.

Online dating 101Norton and his colleagues, including Dan Ariely of MIT and Jeana Frost of Boston University, initiated the study with the help of online dating services like e Harmony and Match.com, though he refused to say which specific ones.

“We were working with a couple of online dating companies who were finding that their users got very unhappy very quickly with online dating. To find out, they showed each of 304 online daters, average age 34, a grab-bag of anywhere from one to 10 traits randomly culled from more than 200 characteristics gathered from real online daters.

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