Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match — there's something in it for you.
People who play matchmaker get a happiness boost, new research finds. What's more, matchmaking may be good for society as a whole, because it creates denser, more resilient social networks.
The research is just in time for Valentine's Day, said study leader Lalin Anik, a post-doctoral fellow at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
"If you're single, don't feel bad," Anik told Live Science. "Start introducing your friends to one another, because it will make you happier." [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]
Find me a find
Anik came to the study of matchmaking from personal experience.
"I am a chronic matchmaker," she said.
Strangely, previous psychological research suggested that people should avoid matchmaking others, whether romantically, platonically or professionally, Anik said. Two people introduced by a third person might bypass their matchmaker in favor of socializing with each other.
Clearly, though, people like Anik get something out of matching people up. To find out what, she and her collaborator, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, conducted five studies. In the first, they simply asked volunteers to describe whether they often set up dates, introduced professional contacts or engaged in other matchmaking activities. They then asked the volunteers about their feelings of well-being.
They found that matchmakers were happier on average than non-matchmakers, even after controlling for the size of their social networks and for personality traits such as extroversion.
Next, the researchers invited another set of volunteers to the laboratory, where they were introduced to one another in groups of six. After a brief introduction period, each participant was told to match two of the other people in the room, either based on who they thought would get along, who they thought would not get along, or at random.
The people who matched people based on perceived compatibility got a happiness boost, the results showed, but those who put together incompatible matches or matched people randomly did not.
"It seems like the secret to matchmaking is to make matches that will work," Anik said.
Catch me a catch
In a third study, the researchers gave participants a computer matchmaking task, giving money to some and asking others to make matches for free. The participants who were paid stopped making matches sooner than those doing it for the thrill of it. That finding suggests matchmaking is intrinsically rewarding, Anik said. Just like a hobby, getting paid to do it seems to diminish some of the joy.
That's important, Anik said, because some professional networking websites and dating websites offer participants rewards for introducing their friends on the sites.
"Actually, that might not be the best way" to encourage matchmaking, Anik said.
And matchmaking may be important not just on an individual level, she added. Linking up friends who wouldn't otherwise meet can make social networks stronger and reduce isolation.
The researchers published their findings Feb. 10 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, and will present the findings tomorrow (Feb. 14) at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Austin, Texas. They also found that people get a bigger happiness boost from matching up two people who are very different; two similar people might have met on their own, Anik said, so people feel less accomplishment after introducing them. And, of course, the success of the match matters. People who introduce two friends who don't end up getting along don't get the happiness boost.
Nevertheless, matchmaking may still persist in the face of failures, Anik said. She and her colleagues are now investigating whether the rewards of matchmaking outweigh the risks. From personal experience, she suspects they do.
"If one of them works out, I have a story to tell for a lifetime," she said.