The Snake Oil of “Scientific Matching” and Old Online Dating
Below are excerpts from an article by Eli Finkel published in Scientific America debunking the “matching algorithms” used by eHarmony, Chemistry.com, PerfectMatch.com, GenePartner.com, and FindYourFaceMate.com. To summarize the article, there is no scientific validity to the claims that personality testing can produce or predict relationship success.
I was the VP of Product Strategy at Match.com when eHarmony launched. After multiple conversations with PhDs, the company understood that personality testing was snake oil but it offered great marketing sizzle and Match decided to build Chemistry.com, our answer to eHarmony. In fact, we were very motivated because eHarmony had just taken out the most profitable part of online dating, people that are willing to pay a premium for help finding a marriage partner. Basically, we knew it would boil down to “my PhD can beat up your PhD” and the best marketing company would win.
Online dating has experienced very little product innovation since the launch of eHarmony and PlentyOfFish, so major dating sites have competed with TV advertising, branding and marketing claims. If you say you offer “secret sauce” enough times on TV, a chunk consumers will believe it. But times have changed and so have consumers.
I want to thank Eli for shining a scientific-light on the misinformation shared by several major dating sites. The industry has an opportunity to innovate by moving away from their dependence on snake oil, scientific matching and their reliance on charging consumers to communicate and instead move rapidly to embrace the social networking, real identity and true interest matching.
At theComplete.me our goal is simple, we want to help consumers have a great first date and we believe that is all a website can strive to deliver. We do this by approaching “matching” differently, we allow consumers to import their interests from nine social networks and quickly find people who share their passions and interests. Our interest matching allows people to discover easy ice-breaking conversations and find common ground for their first date… the rest is up to them.
Back to Eli’s article… two of the major weaknesses with traditional dating sites: the over dependence on profile browsing and the overheated emphasis on “matching algorithms.” A series of studies spearheaded by our co-author Paul Eastwick has shown that people lack insight regarding which characteristics in a potential partner will inspire or undermine their attraction to him or her (see here, here, and here ). As such, singles think they’re making sensible decisions about who’s compatible with them when they’re browsing profiles, but they can’t get an accurate sense of their romantic compatibility until they’ve met the person face-to-face.
It is not difficult to convince people unfamiliar with the scientific literature that a given person will, all else equal, be happier in a long-term relationship with a partner who is similar rather than dissimilar to them in terms of personality and values. Nor is it difficult to convince such people that opposites attract in certain crucial ways.
The problem is that relationship scientists have been investigating links between similarity, “complementarity” (opposite qualities), and marital well-being for the better part of a century, and little evidence supports the view that either of these principles—at least when assessed by characteristics that can be measured in surveys—predicts marital well-being.
… relationship scientists have discovered a great deal about what makes some relationships more successful than others. For example, such scholars frequently videotape couples while the two partners discuss certain topics in their marriage, such as a recent conflict or important personal goals. Such scholars also frequently examine the impact of life circumstances, such as unemployment stress, infertility problems, a cancer diagnosis, or an attractive co-worker. Scientists can use such information about people’s interpersonal dynamics or their life circumstances to predict their long-term relationship well-being.
But algorithmic-matching sites exclude all such information from the algorithm because the only information those sites collect is based on individuals who have never encountered their potential partners (making it impossible to know how two possible partners interact) and who provide very little information relevant to their future life stresses (employment stability, drug abuse history, and the like).
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