Scientist Gives Dating Talk

What makes a relationship successful?

Gian C. Gonzaga, senior research director for and faculty affiliate at the Interdisciplinary Relationship Science Program at UCLA, sought to answer this question in a seminar last night before a mostly female audience in the Starr Auditorium at the Kennedy School.

Gonzaga is responsible for scientifically designing algorithms for finding compatible partners on the online dating service eHarmony.

“Technology can help us improve our partner selection,” he said at the seminar, titled “The Science of Romantic Choice (or: Why do Fools Fall in Love?).”

Gonzaga commented on the low number of men in the crowd, noting that many online dating services, though not eHarmony, in fact have more male users.


“There is a tendency in American society for women to be more oriented towards relationships than men are,” he said. “Ironically one of the manifestations of that is most dating services have a problem with too many men. Our service is more focused on relationships so we have more women.”

Gonzaga’s presented three studies that suggested that people usually choose partners with similar personalities and subsequently have higher marital satisfaction. He also stated that the assumption that couples who were together long enough begin to become more like each other is false. While their interests converge, their personalities do not, he said.

Gonzaga said that on-line dating now accounts for more marriages than meeting via friends, school, or work.

But Gonzaga in fact met his significant other in a more traditional way.

“I met my wife in the UCLA Marriage Lab. We had to teach people how to interview married couples,” he said. “She and I played a couple that was married for 13 years and after a while we realized it worked pretty well. Eventually we got to know each other and got married.”

Some attendees said they felt that the seminar was too focused on eHarmony.

“It seemed like an eHarmony pitch,” said Camila M. Villanueva, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “It seemed like it was just going to be about relationships in general.”

Beste Cobek, another student at HGSE, agreed that the discussion focused heavily on eHarmony.

“It was very informative about [his] company and the background that he was coming from, but I would have liked to see some statistics about how successful his method has been,” she said.

But Cobek noted she took away some valuable relationship advice.

“[The seminar] would change where I would look for a relationship,” she said.

The event was organized by the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, a Harvard-wide research lab that studies decision making,

“One of our goals is to bring people together from different disciplines to focus on the broad topic of decisions research,” said Jennifer S. Lerner, faculty director of the HDSL and organizer of the event.