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How Dating App Algorithms Predict Dating Desire

Putting your faith in an app If in real life we are much more flexible than we say we are on paper, perhaps being overly fussy about what we’re looking for in someone’s dating profile makes it harder to find the right person. At one end of the online dating spectrum are sites like and eHarmony who, as part of the registration process, ask users to complete reasonably extensive questionnaires. These sites hope to reduce the amount of sorting the user needs to do by collecting data and filtering their best options.

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“We look at core values, we decode those and we match those with people who are as similar as possible,” says Rachael Lloyd, the in-house relationship expert at eHarmony. “From all our years of research, the more you have in common the more likely a relationship is to be a success. We start with 150 questions, although these have changed and been refined over time based on machine learning.” Lloyd explains that the goal of the eHarmony algorithm is to find ‘satisfying relationships’, which is slightly different to the goal when the company was founded in 2000. Then, marriage was much more important. This shift has reflected the slight change in attitudes over the past two decades. Researchers from the University of Oxford analysed data from 150,000 of eHarmony’s subscribers and corroborated Joel’s findings on deal-breakers: generally, people are less bothered by things like smoking and drinking than they might predict. “We also saw that people who are altruistic generally do well,” says Lloyd. “People who have conversations about charity and giving have 34% more interest in them. As our algorithm demonstrates, kindness is still really important. More than being highly sexualised – that tends to not work so well.”

I would argue Tinder is much better because they are showing you people and asking if you like them – Samantha Joel

The data also suggests that being very, very attractive as a man offers no advantages over being fairly average. Women like men who rate themselves as five out of 10 as much as men who think they are 10 out of 10s, whereas men would ideally date someone who self-rates their physical appearance as eight out of 10. At the other end of the spectrum, apps like Tinder and Bumble ask for very little in the way of preferences before they start to show you profiles: usually, the gender of the person you are interested in, an age range and distance from where you live. These apps refine as they learn about the user’s preferences. “I would argue Tinder is much better because they are showing you people and asking if you like them,” says Joel. “It seems to me based on the data that preliminary filters don’t work.”


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