Sci­ence can’t forecast love

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER -

Here’s

some heart­break­ing news for peo­ple pin­ning their hopes on on­line match­mak­ing sites: It’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to forecast a love con­nec­tion.

Maybe t hat’s not so shock­ing to sur­vivors of the dat­ing wars. But now sci­ence is weigh­ing in. Ex­ten­sive back­ground data on two in­di­vid­u­als — com­pa­ra­ble to that col­lected by dig­i­tal dat­ing ser­vices — can’t pre­dict whether that pair will ro­man­ti­cally click dur­ing a four-minute, face-to-face speed date, say psy­chol­o­gist Saman­tha Joel of the Univer­sity of Utah in Salt Lake City and col­leagues.

Peo­ple know when an i n- per­son meet­ing on a speed date has gone smoothly or felt right — and that bodes well for mu­tual at­trac­tion, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­port on­line Au­gust 30 in Psy- cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence. But on pa­per, no blend of per­sonal qual­i­ties and part­ner pref­er­ences thought to in­flu­ence mate choices pegged which op­po­site- sex duos would hit it off, Joel’s group con­cludes.

Joel ex­pected that, say, a per­son who re­ported be­ing at­tracted to ex­tro­verted peo­ple would gen­er­ate the most chem­istry with speed daters who re­ported be­ing ex­tro­verted. Or, two peo­ple who re­ported be­ing good-look­ing and hav­ing par­tic­u­larly warm per­son­al­i­ties would feel es­pe­cially at­tracted to one an­other af­ter brief dates. But that’s not what Joel and coau­thors Paul East­wick of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis and Eli Finkel of North­west­ern Univer­sity in Evanston, Ill., found.

The re­searchers stud­ied 350 het­ero­sex­ual col­lege stu­dents — al­most evenly split be­tween males and fe­males — who par­tic­i­pated in one of 15 speed-dat­ing events in 2005 or 2007. Par­tic­i­pants filled out ei­ther 182-item or 112-item ques­tion­naires about their per­son­al­ity traits and pref­er­ences in ro­man­tic part­ners. The stu­dents then com­pleted about 12 speed dates. Af­ter­ward, par­tic­i­pants rated their in­ter­est in and sex­ual at­trac­tion to each per­son they met.

Some qual­i­ties ro­mance seek­ers said they wanted — such as ex­tro­ver­sion and warmth — pre­dicted in­di­vid­ual speed daters’ greater at­trac­tive­ness to oth­ers in gen­eral. But a sta­tis­ti­cal analysis of par­tic­i­pants’ re­sponses found that no traits or pref­er­ences, or com­bi­na­tions of traits and pref­er­ences, pre­dicted how much one per­son es­pe­cially de­sired an­other per­son af­ter a speed date.

Joel’s team has not an­a­lyzed ev­i­dence from on­line match­mak­ing ser­vices to see if their ques­tion­naires fre­quently pair peo­ple who gen­er­ate ro­man­tic heat. “But our find­ings sug­gest that it’s quite dif­fi­cult to pre­dict ini­tial ro­man­tic at­trac­tion us­ing self-re­port mea­sures be­fore two peo­ple have met,” Joel says.

Bi­o­log­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist He­len Fisher, a se­nior re­searcher at In­di­ana Univer­sity’s Kin­sey In­sti­tute in Bloom­ing­ton, agrees. “You’ve got to meet some­one in per­son to trig­ger the brain cir­cuitry for ro­man­tic love,” Fisher says.

That comes as no sur­prise to op­er­a­tors of on­line dat­ing sites, she adds. These sites typ­i­cally don’t prom­ise cus­tomers ro­man­tic con­nec­tions, says Fisher, who is a con­sul­tant for on­line dat­ing site Match.com and founded its af­fil­i­ated web­site, Chem­istry. com. The aim is to pro­vide an ar­ray of po­ten­tial dates with back­ground and per­son­al­ity traits re­quested by a cus­tomer. The rest is up to those who de­cide to go on dates.

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