Online dating is big business, with dozens of websites offering clients the chance to find love in cyberspace. Dating services, like many other businesses, like to adopt the veneer of scientific validity.
While anyone can set up a web-based dating profile matching system, some websites such as eHarmony.com and Chemistry.com claim to use science to help people find love, romance, or just a quick dip in the gene pool.
eHarmony is perhaps the best known dating service claiming to mix science with seduction. According to the company’s website, its marriage profile, “developed by a team of clinical experts… is rooted in classical psychometric theory, which uses well-established standards to measure mental abilities and traits in a reliable way.”
It all sounds very scientific. I picture Kate Winslet in a slinky black dress under a white lab coat, mixing a beaker of crimson sex appeal and cool blue psychometric theory.
Yet there are serious questions about the validity of eHarmony’s much-vaunted “scientific, 29-dimension” tests. Does their “science” greatly improve the quality or odds of a match? How good is their tests’ construct validity? After all, many matches are made without a hint (or claim) of scientific basis for the pairing. Though the company and its founder, Neil Clark Warren, insist that the tests are useful, they have yet to be scientifically validated.
eHarmony, incidentally, does not offer services to same-sex partners because Warren, an evangelical Christian, does not believe homosexuality should be encouraged. However, in 2009 eHarmony launched a gay-friendly sister site called Compatible Partners.
Steven Carter, director of research at eHarmony, wrote an article in the February 2005 issue of the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer. Carter offered little or no scientific support for the tests’ claims, but he did state that “to date, we estimate that over 9,000 eHarmony couples have married.”
That statistic, if true, clearly doesn’t tell the whole story, as it cherry-picks the successes and omits the failures: how many of the eHarmony matches were not compatible?
If, by one estimate, there are over 20 million eHarmony members looking for matches or marriage, 9,000 is not really that impressive a success ratio. Furthermore, the real question would seem to be how many of those 9,000 marriages lasted longer than average; for all we know, most of the eHarmony couples may have since divorced.
And what about the science? It seems that Neil Clark Warren, the marriage and relationship expert behind eHarmony, has not published any research in peer-reviewed journals on the subjects of marriage or relationships. A 2011 search of several academic databases (including PsycInfo and MedLine) did not reveal a single article published by Neil Clark Warren on those subjects.
If Warren has been researching marriage and compatibility for the past 40 years as he claims (and developing his specialized compatibility tests), why hasn’t he published about it, or tested it? Warren is author of several books on relationships, though anyone can write a book on relationship advice.
Of course, plenty of people can find compatible matches on eHarmony (or any other dating service) without the help of scientifically validated tests. But if people are choosing certain dating websites because they believe that there is some validated science behind the matching, buyer beware.