John Tierney of the New York Times pays a visit to Dr. Galen Buckwalter and Dr. Gian Gonzaga of eHarmony Labs, and learns how online dating sites are competing to develop algorithms for finding love. An excerpt:
Hitting It Off, Thanks to Algorithms of Love
by John Tierney, 29 January 2008
“The company estimates, based on a national Harris survey it commissioned, that its matchmaking was responsible for about 2 percent of the marriages in America last year, nearly 120 weddings a day.”
… Online companies give scientists a remarkable opportunity to gather enormous amounts of data and test their theories in the field. EHarmony says more than 19 million people have filled out its questionnaire.
Its algorithm was developed a decade ago by Galen Buckwalter, a psychologist who had previously been a research professor at the University of Southern California. Drawing on previous evidence that personality similarities predict happiness in a relationship, he administered hundreds of personality questions to 5,000 married couples and correlated the answers with the couples’ marital happiness, as measured by an existing instrument called the dyadic adjustment scale.
The result was an algorithm that is supposed to match people on 29 “core traits,” like social style or emotional temperament, and “vital attributes” like relationship skills.
“We’re not looking for clones, but our models emphasize similarities in personality and in values,” Dr. Buckwalter said. “It’s fairly common that differences can initially be appealing, but they’re not so cute after two years. If you have someone who’s Type A and real hard charging, put them with someone else like that. It’s just much easier for people to relate if they don’t have to negotiate all these differences.”
Does this method actually work? In theory, thanks to its millions of customers and their fees (up to $60 a month), eHarmony has the data and resources to conduct cutting-edge research. It has an advisory board of prominent social scientists and a new laboratory with researchers lured from academia like Dr. Gonzaga, who previously worked at a marriage-research lab at U.C.L.A.
So far, except for a presentation at a psychologists’ conference, the company has not produced much scientific evidence that its system works. It has started a longitudinal study comparing eHarmony couples with a control group, and Dr. Buckwalter says it is committed to publishing peer-reviewed research, but not the details of its algorithm. That secrecy may be a smart business move, but it makes eHarmony a target for scientific critics, not to mention its rivals. Read the rest of the article