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The Benefits of Being a Matchmaker

Have you ever tried playing matchmaker by setting two people up in the hopes that they form a relationship? Playing matchmaker allows us to use our insight into others’ lives to help others find love. And really, why not? If we’re wrong, the mismatched partners go their separate ways and are likely no worse off than they were before. But, if we’re right about the match, the potential reward for the couple is great…they find love, start an amazing relationship, and live happily ever after. That sounds great for the newly matched couple, but what are the benefits for you as the matchmaker? Do you get anything out of playing Cupid?

To answer this question, researchers at Duke and Harvard conducted a series of studies.1 In their first study, over 300 participants rated their inclination toward making romantic matches for others (e.g., “I set up my friends on dates”), their self-perceived success at doing so (e.g., “How good are you at setting up your friends on dates?”), and a measure of well-being/life satisfaction (e.g., “I am satisfied with my life”). Those who reported a greater propensity toward making matches and greater success at doing so also reported greater well-being. Though this provides evidence of a potential benefit for matchmakers – i.e., greater well-being – it could also be the case that those with higher well-being make better matchmakers.

In their second study, the researchers helped to clarify the results of the first study by bringing over 100 students into the laboratory to measure their happiness before and after engaging in a matchmaking task.  Participants indicated their current happiness on a long line anchored with “not at all happy” and “very happy” (Researchers use a line instead of exact numbers to minimize participants’ ability to simply provide the exact same answer twice and to help detect small differences). Next, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions:

  • matchmaker (participants selected pairs that they thought would be a good match/get along well);
  • mismatch-maker (participants selected pairs that they thought would be a bad match/not get along well);
  • random (participants selected pairs who they thought had similar social security numbers).

Finally, participants completed the happiness measure a second time. Participants in the matchmaker condition experienced an increase in happiness from before to after the task, whereas those in the other two conditions experienced little change (though both experienced slight decreases in happiness).

For the third study, researchers wanted to see if participants found non-romantic matchmaking enjoyable. To do this, they randomly assigned over 160 undergraduates to pair a target person’s picture to one of 3 other same-sex people, based either “match” (i.e., how well they thought the two would get along) or on “appearance” (i.e., how physically similar the two pictures were). Participants were also randomly assigned to earn 1 cent, 2 cents, or 0 cents for each pair they made. Researchers were interested in which of the 5 combinations found most enjoyable, which the researchers measured with persistence (i.e., how many pairs they made before deciding to do another task). When not receiving pay, participants completed twice as many pairs in the “match” condition, compared to the “appearance” condition. Compared to the unpaid condition, participants in the paid conditions completed more “appearance” pairs, but fewer “match” pairs. This pattern is consistent with the overjustification effect, or the idea that paying individuals for activities they find inherently rewarding decreases enjoyment, or in this case, persistence.2 A follow-up also revealed that those who created pairs based on “match” experienced an increase in happiness compared to those who created pairs based on “appearance,” whose happiness decreased. 

Taken together, the results of these studies demonstrate that playing matchmaker for others has its benefits and can increase happiness. As social creatures, it isn’t surprising that we take pleasure from helping others make connections.  

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1Anik, L., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Matchmaking promotes happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science (Online) doi: 10.1177/1948550614522303

Lepper, M.P; Greene, D., Nisbett, R. E (1973). Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the "overjustification" hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129–137.

Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the self’s role in romantic relationships focusing on attraction, relationship initiation, love, infidelity, relationship maintenance, and break-up. Recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 300 Professors, he has also authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences.

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