May 15, 2013

Whatever happened to genetic matchmaking?

Online dating websites are very lucrative, and the competition between them is immense. Every other advert on the London Underground seems to be for a dating website catering to one demographic or the other.

A few years ago, a number of startups began to offer online dating based on genetic profiles. Members would send in a sample of their saliva, from which DNA would be extracted. Next, the genes encoding the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) would be genotyped and added to the member's profile. The theory was that we are sexually attracted to partners who have different MHC genes to ours. An algorithm would then identify partners that were a good genetic match.

There were at least half a dozen startups that tried this, including, Gmatch, Basisnote, and GenePartner. All of them, with the exception of GenePartner, are now out of business.

Why didn't this business model work? I don't know about you, but for me, it's a lot more fun to think about why a business might fail instead of why it might succeed. I have several hypotheses:
  • It's not particularly romantic to find your partner on the internet. Finding your partner based on a genetic test that is likely to be obscure to most people is even less romantic. Actually, it'd be hard for me to come up with a less romantic scenario.
  • Most people (including me) will assume that things like personality, interests and looks are more important in a partner than their MHC genotype. 
  • Presumably dating websites have to balance their male and female membership. My guess is that the majority of people interested in finding a partner through genetic matchmaking are male. 
  • This type of service may attract people with certain undatable characteristics. 
  • The science behind genetic matchmaking is shaky. I only reluctantly include this point because I consider this an unlikely reason for business failure. After all, shaky science doesn't stop other online dating websites that use unvalidated algorithms.
Unfortunately, I have no privileged insight into why the genetic matchmaking startups actually failed, and I'd therefore love to hear from you if you have any other ideas. 

Disclaimer: My interest in genetic matchmaking is entirely professional in nature. However, should you avail yourself to any of the still functional services I have mentioned in this post, I'm not going to judge you. At least I will try not to.

1 comment:

  1. Please remember, the 3 milestone discoveries of the 2001 – 2010 decade for Theories of Romantic Relationships Development are:
    I) Several studies showing contraceptive pills users make different mate choices, on average, compared to non-users.

    I.1) "Human oestrus" Gangestad & Thornhill (2008)
    "Only short-term but not long-term partner preferences tend to vary with the menstrual cycle"

    I.2) "Does the contraceptive pill alter mate choice in humans?" Alvergne & Lummaa (2009)
    ".. whereas normally cycling women express a preference for MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) dissimilarity in mates, pill users prefer odours of MHC-SIMILAR men, indicating that pill use might eliminate adaptive preferences for genetic dissimilarity."

    I.3) "Personality and reproductive success in a high-fertility human population" Alvergne, Jokelac & Lummaaa (2010)
    The reproductive success of both men and women is influenced by our personality traits, according to the paper.
    The study, found that women with higher levels of neuroticism and more extravert men, are likely to give birth to a larger number of children in societies with traditionally high birth rates.

    II) People often report partner preferences that are not compatible with their choices in real life. [uncovered by Eastwick & Finkel (2008); Kurzban & Weeden (2007); Todd, Penke, Fasolo, & Lenton (2007)]
    (Behavioural recommender systems or other system that learns your preferences are useless)

    III) The strict personality similarity axis.

    Latest Research in Theories of Romantic Relationships Development shows: compatibility is all about a high level on personality* similarity* between prospective mates for long term mating with commitment.
    *personality measured with a normative test.
    *similarity: there are different ways to calculate similarity, it depends on how mathematically is defined.

    Also Personality Based Recommender Systems are the next generation of recommender systems because they perform FAR better than Behavioural ones (past actions and pattern of personal preferences)
    That is the only way to improve recommender systems, to include the personality traits
    of their users and they need to calculate personality similarity between them.

    WorldWide, there are over 5,000 -five thousand- online dating sites
    but no one is using the 16PF5 (or similar) to assess personality of its members!
    but no one calculates similarity with a quantized pattern comparison method!
    but no one can show Compatibility Distribution Curves to each and every of its members!
    but no one is scientifically proven!

    Please remember personality = temperament + character
    Personality is composed of two basic types of traits:
    traits that an individual acquires, dimensions of character;
    traits with biological underpinnings, dimensions of temperament (Cloninger 1987).