In an article published on TIME Health & Family, the science behind falling in love online is examined after the recent story of Manti Te’o being apparently fleeced by an imaginary online girlfriend was reported. According to the piece, love is a mixture of many complex processes. Chemical, cognitive and goal-oriented behaviors all make up the feelings that surround being in love. Further, the feelings generated by love activate and release dopamine, the chemical responsible for making us feel good and euphoric.
So, how can one seemingly ignore all the red flags and forge ahead in an imaginary, online relationship? According to Univ. of Chicago Associate Professor Stephanie Cacioppo, love can be a very powerful mental state. Those who love simply being in-love often see their relationship the way they want it to appear, rather than see the realities of what is happening. (Think of the State Farm French model commercial- Ugh, Bonjour!)
With the dangers of online relationships surfacing, you may wonder why anyone would become involved online. However, Professor Cacioppo points to research from the late 1980s that shows couples who met online or in a dark room first were more likely to be satisfied with their relationship down the road. This could be because those couples were not distracted or slowed by feelings of physical attraction initially, but rather, shared more personal information about their beliefs and outlook on key issues.
In the end, we may never know the full truth surrounding the Te’o story. Was he truly a victim of a cruel hoax, or did he somehow play a part in the production? Regardless, one thing is certain: in today’s increasingly virtual word, the opportunity for both stories of true love and catfish tales continue to grow.
The Psychology behind the Te’o Scandal
In an article reported on International Business Times website, the psychology behind the strange story of the Manti Te’o girlfriend saga is explored. In case you missed it, on Wednesday, it was revealed that the Notre Dame linebacker’s late girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, apparently never existed but was rather part of an elaborate internet hoax. While the news is abuzz with speculation as to whether Te’o was part of the hoax or is truly an innocent victim, one thing is for sure: popular media failed to catch onto the hoax for months.
In her piece, Roxanne Palmer explores two theories in psychology as to how a hoax like this maybe advanced: idealization and confirmation bias. Frequently, people in online relationships are in danger of being conned because of their high romantic beliefs. These beliefs can lead them to idealize their idea of a romantic partner and ignore the warning signs that trouble could be brewing. Online romance scams are nothing new. In 2011, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) estimated that victims of online dating scams lost an average of $8,900.00 each to frauds posing as romantic interests. Was Te’o merely a victim of a cold cyber scam or is there more to the story?
In addition to examining Te’o’s involvement, many are questioning how the media did not pick up on the irregularities in the Te’o story for months. The answer, according to Palmer, may lie in a theory known as confirmation bias. The theory explains how people believe and see what they want to see when they have a particular attitude towards something. In fact, people may ignore evidence that could tend to change their mind if they experience confirmation bias. With Manti Te’o being one of 2012’s collegiate sweethearts, is it possible the major news outlets simply did think to perform even the most basic of fact checks? Certainly his rise to greatness in leading Notre Dame the BCS Championship game set the backdrop for the media’s seeming love affair with him. While this story of fact checking gone wrong will not likely gain the significance the Benghazi attacks anytime soon, it will surely be one for the history books no matter how it plays out over the coming weeks.