Nautilus

When Dating Algorithms Can Watch You Blush

Let’s get the basics over with,” W said to M when they met on a 4-minute speed date. “What are you studying?”

“Uh, I’m studying econ and poli sci. How about you?”

“I’m journalism and English literature.”

“OK, cool.”

“Yeah.”

They talked about where they were from (she hailed from Iowa, he from New Jersey), life in a small town, and the transition to college. An eavesdropper would have been hard-pressed to detect a romantic spark in this banal back-and-forth. Yet when researchers, who had recorded the exchange, ran it through a language-analysis program, it revealed what W and M confirmed to be true: They were hitting it off.

LOVE AT FIRST LAUGH: Research led by psychologist Eli Finkel suggests it may be possible to predict attraction simply by measuring how two people interact on a speed date.Jesse Chan-Norris / Flickr

The researchers weren’t interested in what the daters discussed, or even whether they seemed to share personality traits, backgrounds, or interests. Instead, they were searching for subtle similarities in how they structured their sentences—specifically, how often they used function words such as it, that, but, about, never, and lots. This synchronicity, known as “language style matching,” or LSM, happens unconsciously. But the researchers found it to be a good predictor of mutual affection: An analysis of conversations involving 80 speed daters showed that couples with high LSM scores were three times as likely as those with low scores to want to see each other again.

It’s not just

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