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Matchmakers Are Happier Than Non-Matchmakers, Research Shows


You know, matchmaking is something that far predates the Internet. It's something that has been in every country and every culture for as long as we know. But now as computers and algorithms and websites, like OkCupid and Tinder and match.com, take over the job of setting up matches, there's new research that this might come at a price. NPR's social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, is here to explain that price. What is it, Shankar?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: The price is really to matchmakers, David. I recently came by research by Lalin Anik at Duke University. Along with Michael Norton, she finds that matchmaking is a significant source of happiness for many people. So here's what the researchers did. They examined the happiness of people who reported they like to play matchmaker, and did it a lot, against the happiness levels of people who didn't. And they find that in general, matchmakers are happier than non-matchmakers.

GREENE: I love that we actually don't care about talking about the people who actually matched.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

GREENE: We're talking about the happiness of the matchmakers. But couldn't it be that just happy people tend to be the matchmakers, they decide to do this?

VEDANTAM: That's right, so this is just a correlation. We don't know what's causing what. So to sort this out, the researchers ran a series of experiments where they had volunteers play matchmaker in a lab. And they find that the act of making matches increases happiness. They also find that when volunteers are given a chance to make unusual or unexpected matches, they experience greater boosts in happiness. And this probably explains why if you are single, your matchmaker friends keep trying to introduce you to people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common.

GREENE: Because they really want to accomplish something by finding that unlikely duo that could come together.

VEDANTAM: That's exactly right.

GREENE: Well, Shankar, if people were sort of relied on, these matchmakers, to make these unexpected, unusual matches because it makes them happy. Is that sort of going away because computer algorithms are now, you know, not really finding those unusual duos?

VEDANTAM: That's exactly right, David. Many of these computer algorithms are designed to match people who are similar to them. So people actually can go to these websites and say I want someone who has exactly the same interests and personality and characteristics that I do. And so the computers are finding matches. They're not finding unusual connections. And as I read the study, David, I realized we have of lots and lots of websites for single people to find partners. What we might really want is a website for matchmakers, so that they can continue to make these really unusual matches. I'm not sure it would increase the happiness levels of single people. It would probably increase the happiness levels of matchmakers.

GREENE: And a few single people who would find these unexpected matches.

VEDANTAM: Yes, I can tell that you're a matchmaker at heart, David.

GREENE: I am. Great to be matched with you this morning in the studio.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

GREENE: Take care, Shankar. Thanks.

VEDANTAM: Thanks David.

GREENE: Our colleague, Shankar Vedantam. You can follow him on Twitter at @HiddenBrain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shankar Vedantam
Shankar Vedantam is NPR's social science correspondent and the host of Hidden Brain. The focus of his reporting is on human behavior and the social sciences, and how research in those fields can get listeners to think about the news in unusual and interesting ways. Hidden Brain is among the most popular podcasts in the world, with over two million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is featured on some 250 public radio stations across the United States.