13 Feb 2014

Happy Valentine's Day: Matchmaking Carries Its Own Rewards


According to researchers at Harvard Business School and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, matchmaking brings intrinsic happiness to the matchmaker -- which could explain why so many people try to do it.

“Our results suggest that people might be leaving happiness on the table. By making a simple introduction, romantic or platonic, matchmakers not only improve the lives of the new couple, but reap happiness benefits themselves,” said Harvard Business School associate professor Michael Norton, co-author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.

Norton, along with Lalin Anik, a postdoctoral fellow at Fuqua, recently conducted an investigation of modern-day matchmaking, examining what motivates people to match others, even when it often goes wrong. In four studies to be presented tomorrow at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference in Austin, Texas, they used surveys, computer games, and lab-based social interactions to show when and why making matches increases happiness.

“At some point, most people have made matches by grabbing two strangers by the arm at a party and introducing them to each other, or they can think of a friend known for his or her efforts to make introductions,” said Anik.

“Social networking sites now make matchmaking as simple as a few clicks. Try using ‘You Should Totally Meet on Facebook’ for friends or the ‘Suggest Connections’ feature on LinkedIn for colleagues,” Norton explained. “Most of us know two co-workers or two friends that are unacquainted and might get together and do the other kind of clicking. Matchmaking gives them a new business associate or friend.”

Norton and Anik found that for the best psychological benefit, matchmakers should be sure to pair two people who are compatible and who wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Future work on this topic will explore the costs to people’s emotions and reputations when matchmaking goes wrong.

But let’s hope that kind of negative outcome never happens on Valentine’s Day.


Cullen Schmitt

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.