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Playing Cupid makes us happy
February 14th, 2014
08:09 AM ET

Playing Cupid makes us happy

The word "matchmaker" immediately conjures images of nosy old ladies interfering in something that is really none of their business. And anyone who's ever been on a bad blind date knows how difficult it can be to make a good match.

So why do we keep setting other people up?

Because playing Cupid makes us happy, new research suggests.

"People enjoy being the key person who made that critical match between newlyweds or between business partners who started a successful venture," says lead study author Lalin Anik, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University.

Anik and fellow researcher Michael Norton from Harvard Business School conducted four studies to test the psychological benefits of matchmaking. Their results were published this week in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Study No. 1

In the first study, Anik and Norton examined whether people who frequently engage in matchmaking report better health overall than their non-matchmaking counterparts.

They asked 301 people how often they make matches and how successful they are at matchmaking. Those who made successful matches more often scored higher on a well-being evaluation.

This result held true even after the researchers controlled for participants' social circle size and personality traits.

Study No. 2

In the second study, 118 people were asked to introduce themselves to the others by stating their name, place of birth, occupation and hobbies. They were then split into three groups. One group matched people who they thought would get along; another group matched people they thought would NOT get along; a third group matched people based on a randomly assigned characteristic.

Anik and Norton found participants who matched others based on how much they thought they would get along were happier after the task than those who matched incompatible couples or matched based on a random characteristic.

The study authors concluded: "Matchmaking increases their happiness - but only when that matching is done in the service of creating connections between others."

Study No. 3

Anik and Norton wondered if paying people to make matches would encourage them to do so, or if it would reduce the intrinsic reward they seemed to be getting.

So for study three, the researchers asked people to make matches either for free, for one cent each or for two cents each. After each match, participants were given the choice to either continue making matches or to move on to another task.

People in the free group completed more matches than those who were receiving a monetary incentive.

"So, people should avoid going pro," Anik concluded.

Study No. 4

In the fourth study, researchers explored what types of matches were most rewarding. They asked 132 people to make matches either between people who would likely be members of the same social network or between people who would be less likely to be members of the same network.

"What we found is that creating matches between people who are unlikely to know each other proves more rewarding than creating matches between people who are likely to know one another," Anik says. "Truly masterful matchmaking, it seems, involves making improbable matches."

Takeaway

Creating meaningful connections between people who otherwise wouldn't have met may make you happy. Quick, think - who doesn't have a date for Valentine's Day?

The researchers noted several possible causes for this link. Previous studies have shown that a rich network of family and friends relates to a person's psychological well-being. Bringing two people together not only increases your social connections, it singles you out as a source of power in that network. And it makes you appear helpful - upping your likability. Not to mention that people who owe you for their harmonious relationship may reciprocate at some point in the future.

The psychological benefits don't only apply to love matches, Anik says. Matching two co-workers with compatible skills or helping a young intern network with a colleague also helps boost your mood.


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