An energetic, attractive thirty-five-year-old, Gonzaga thought twice about leaving the prestige of academia. “It seemed cheesy at first,” he said. “I mean, this was a dating service.” But after interviewing with Warren, he realized that conducting his research under the auspices of eHarmony would offer certain advantages. He’d be unfettered by teaching and grant-writing, and there would be no sitting on committees or worrying about tenure. More important, since his research would now be funded by business, he’d have the luxury of doing studies with large groups of ready subjects over many years-but without the constraints of having to produce a specific product.
Chemistry is currently assembling a multidisciplinary group of psychologists, relationship counselors, sociologists, neuroscientists, and sexologists to serve as consultants
“We’re using science in an area most people think of as inherently unscientific,” Gonzaga said. So far, the data are promising: a recent Harris Interactive poll found that between , eHarmony facilitated the marriages of more than 33,000 members-an average of forty-six in-house study of nearly 300 married couples showed that people who met through eHarmony report more marital satisfaction than those who met by other means. The company is now replicating that study in a larger sample.
“We have massive amounts of data!” Warren said. “Twelve thousand new people a day taking a 436-item questionnaire! It’s so easy to get people excited about coming here. We’ve got more data than they could collect in a thousand years.”
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, whose research focuses on the brain physiology of romantic love and sexuality
But how useful is this sort of data for single people like me? Despite Warren’s disclaimer about what a tough eHarmony match I am, I did finally get some profiles in my inbox. They included a bald man with a handlebar moustache, who was fourteen inches taller than me; a five-foot-four-inch attorney with no photos; and a film editor whose photo shows him wearing a kilt-and not in an ironic way. Was this the best science could do?
When I asked Galen Buckwalter about this, he laughed, indicating that he’d heard the question before. “The thing you have to remember about our system is we’re matching on these algorithms for long-term compatibility,” he said. “Long-term satisfaction is not the same as short-term attraction. A lot of people, when they see their initial matches, it’s like, ‘This is crap!’ ”
In ads and on his Web site, Warren talks about matching people “from the inside out.” Was eHarmony suggesting that I overlook something as basic as romantic chemistry? “When we started out,” Buckwalter said, “we were almost that naive.” But now, he added, eHarmony is conducting research on the nature of physical attraction.
“We’re trying to find out if we can predict physical chemistry with the same degree of statistical certainty that we’ve used to predict long-term satisfaction through our compatibility matching. In general, people seem to be attracted to people who share their physical attributes,” Buckwalter explained, noting that he has found some exceptions, like height preference. “There’s a lot of variability on that dimension,” he said. “A person’s height, it turns out, is not a consistent predictor of short-term attraction.” Meanwhile, Buckwalter’s team is in the process of testing new hypotheses.
“We’re still convinced that our compatibility-matching process is essential for long-term satisfaction, so we’re not going to mess with that,” he insisted. “But if we can fit a short-term attraction model on top of that, and it’s also empirically driven, that’s the Holy Grail.”
Over at Chemistry, a new site launched by Match, short-term attraction is already built into the system. This competitor of eHarmony’s was developed with help from Match’s chief scientific adviser, Dr.