It's time to play cupid!

February 10, 2014 BY danariely

In an episode of “The Office,” Michael Scott takes on the role of matchmaker at a Valentine’s Day party. In an attempt to fix geeky Eric up with awkward Meredith, he helpfully points out their similarities: “So, Eric, you mentioned before that you are in Tool & Die Repair. Meredith recently had a total hysterectomy, so that’s sort of a repair. [uncomfortable silence] Alright, I’ll let you guys talk.”

Like Michael, most of us have made matches between people, from grabbing two strangers by the arm at a party and introducing them to each other to mediating preexisting romantic interests. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and I wondered about the nature of this common behavior: why do people like to be matchmakers? Is it a desire to be popular, to fulfill social goals or to have an instrumental role in social networks? In our newest paper* that is being published in Social Psychological and Personality Science this month, we show that it is simpler than that: people get a happiness boost from matching others!

We explored the impact of matchmaking behavior on happiness in different non-romantic scenarios. After being asked to make matches, our participants reported that they were happier post-matchmaking. We measured their happiness with a 7-point scale (1: very unhappy to 7: very happy) and examined their persistence in matchmaking (“would you like to make another match?”)

We first looked at whether people get a happiness boost when they make any type of match (à la Michael Scott). We found that matchmakers are happier when they make matches between two people they actually think will get along rather than on a random dimension such as looking alike. Furthermore, people enjoy matching those who are least likely to know each other; introducing a banker colleague to an artsy cousin makes people happier than introducing two philatelist co-workers from their workplace.

Another important dimension in matchmaking, of course, is the actual success of these matches. Do people still feel happy even when their matchmaking ends with a dating horror story rather than a happy marriage? When asked to think about previous matchmaking experiences, participants who recalled making a successful match (e.g., “my mom got along very well with my emo friend”) reported a happiness boost while failed matches (e.g., “my neighbor made my aunt uneasy”) was actually costly for well-being.

Though Michael Scott is rather hopeless at bringing lonely hearts together, given our findings we would recommend that he continue with his efforts but change his strategy; stay away from random introductions, match people who have a low likelihood of meeting but would enjoy each other’s company and aim for the matches to work out. Fewer awkward silences and happier matchmakers guaranteed.

~Lalin Anik~

*Anik, Lalin and Michael I. Norton, “Matchmaking promotes happiness,” Social Psychological and Personality Science. Prepublished February, 10, 2014.