The science of online dating

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I just read this fascinating essay by Nick Paumgarten in the New Yorker that discussed the origins, developments and philosophies of the major online dating agencies, and how these can inform us about the evolution of the culture of dating itself.

Some interesting tidbits that were gleaned from the article: having similar political leanings serves Republicans better than it does Democrats, whether someone enjoys horror movies can be deeply revealing, and OKCupid has accumulated a treasure trove of data about attraction and romance that it now sells to researchers (what?!).

My favorite bit was this paragraph:

If the dating sites had a mixer, you might find OKCupid by the bar, muttering factoids and jokes, and Match.com in the middle of the room, conspicuously dropping everyone’s first names into his sentences. The clean-shaven gentleman on the couch, with the excellent posture, the pastel golf shirt, and that strangely chaste yet fiery look in his eye? That would be eHarmony.

I laughed aloud at work, where I am supposed to be creating a pivot table for a data set and not reading the New Yorker. ah well.

But what struck me the most about this article was the amount of research that goes into formulating questionnaires for users, creating the ‘match’ algorithms for the various sites, and crunching the data for a post-op analysis. I guess I always assumed that online dating websites were a simple showcase forum, like Facebook or something, but where since the rules were explicit about finding that special someone, it was socially appropriate to initiate conversations where that’s not the case on a regular social networking site. Yeah… no.

Chemistry.com, which is affiliated with Match.com, has a biological anthropologist heading up its research team, who is renowned for her research in “human attraction and attachment”. She’s the brains behind Chemistry’s “four personality types, or “dimensions” (explorer, negotiator, builder, director), that correspond to various neurochemicals (respectively, dopamine, estrogen/oxytocin, serotonin, testosterone)”. One day, the team might try to see if their pairings sync up with pairings devised by, of all things, buccal swab tests. Here’s a foray, however seemingly tall-ordered, into looking for correlations behind the compatibilities of culture and genes.

Paumgartner didn’t draw a direct connection between this idea and a paper from Evolutionary Psychology that he nonetheless quotes in the article, but I will:

In 2004, Evolutionary Psychology published a study of this phenomenon titled, “Narcissism guides mate selection: Humans mate assortatively, as revealed by facial resemblance, following an algorithm of ‘self seeking like.’”

So basically all I have to do is find a tall, Indian man, and I’ll have a strong predictor of lasting success on my hands. Why, my mother would be so pleased to hear this.

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