Data mining the heart

From The Boston Globe:

Dating2__1282334746_0883 To be single these days is to face a sea of advice about how to attract a partner. Men are attracted to youth and beauty; women are attracted to wealth and prestige. Or are they? There’s no shortage of impassioned opinion about what men and women want, yet there is little real evidence to support it. Even though finding love is one of our primary preoccupations, it has always been shrouded in mystery and guesswork. Adages like “opposites attract” feel comforting, but it would be even better to know what qualities actually entice potential partners in the real world. To really answer the question in a scientific way, we’d need to be able to observe the behavior of thousands of single people and see whom they choose to pursue and whom they pass over. We would need a peephole into the dating world.

As it turns out, for the first time in history such a thing exists: It’s called online dating. Research presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association found that 22 percent of heterosexual couples surveyed met online, and researchers believe the Web could soon eclipse friends as the primary means of finding mates. As dating interactions have moved from the privacy of bars and social gatherings to the digital world of websites and e-mails, they are generating an unprecedented trove of data about how the initial phases of romance unfold. Online profiles contain detailed personal and demographic information about website users, and their interactions are indelibly recorded in digital form. Unlike participants in a dating research study, online daters are behaving candidly, not modifying their behavior for an audience.

More here.