The bitchy world of online match making

The New York Times has an interesting yet ironically funny article about the curious world of online dating companies who use ‘psychological profiles’ to try and make love blossom, but who can’t get along with one another.

These are sites like eHarmony, Chemistry and PerfectMatch that instead of letting you browse members’ profiles, ask you to fill in questionnaires and suggest dates based on your ‘psychological compatibility’.

They use various methods to make the matches that are supposedly based on psychological science, but which haven’t been published or released so others can see how valid they are (is that the distant sound of alarm bells I can hear?).

Most amusingly, they seem to be constantly putting each other down in a bid to get the most attention from potential lovers.

In the battle of the matchmakers, Chemistry.com has been running commercials faulting eHarmony for refusing to match gay couples (eHarmony says it can’t because its algorithm is based on data from heterosexuals), and eHarmony asked the Better Business Bureau to stop Chemistry.com from claiming its algorithm had been scientifically validated. The bureau concurred that there was not enough evidence, and Chemistry.com agreed to stop advertising that Dr. Fisher’s method was based on “the latest science of attraction.”

Dr. Fisher now says the ruling against her last year made sense because her algorithm at that time was still a work in progress as she correlated sociological and psychological measures, as well as indicators linked to chemical systems in the brain. But now, she said, she has the evidence from Chemistry.com users to validate the method, and she plans to publish it along with the details of the algorithm.

“I believe in transparency,” she said, taking a dig at eHarmony. “I want to share my data so that I will get peer review.”

And Bravo to that. Largely because, as the article notes, the information from the millions of people filling in these questionnaires is a potentially valuable source of scientific data.

If the questionnaires become scientifically validated and the algorithms tested, these sites could make an important contribution to understanding the psychology of attraction.

I doubt very much whether they will improve the chances of a long-term relationship (John Gottman’s fascinating work suggests the crucial aspects are in interaction style, not the attraction) but they may tell us a few things about how we get drawn towards potential mates.

Obviously though, the companies will have to be a little more open and stop being so defensive. Learn to trust one another. Open their hearts. Stop in the name of love.

And if you’re still cynical, you may want to check out an article in this month’s Time by the fantastic Carl Zimmer, looking at the evolution of romance.

Romance, it seems, is not a uniquely human pursuit, as it occurs throughout the animal kingdom – unaided by technology. A beautifully romantic idea if you think about it.

Link to NYT article ‘Hitting It Off, Thanks to Algorithms of Love’.
Link to Time article ‘Romance is an Illusion’.

One Comment

  1. APPsych1
    Posted February 1, 2008 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    I never did think that those online matchmaking sites were anything concrete, and their accuracy has yet to be proven. I agree that if the techniques are proven accurate, then the companies will have a source of valuable data for psychological and sociological research. I was thinking exactly what John Gottman suggested in his work! I think that relationships have more to do with personal interaction than psychological factors. Through interactions, people get to know each other, and the bond is strengthened, and the significant other’s psychological, physical, or whatever attributes become more appealing, regardless of whether they are matching or not. However, I also believe that there is another flaw in the dating sites’ data. The people on those dating sites are people that can’t find a mate, so they must turn to the online world. This leaves a margin of error, because people who found their mates without outside help are not included.


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