HOW THE WEB IS CHANGING US
The behavioral scientist behind eHarmony
said today’s Web technology offers rich
possibilities for researchers.
BY SARA MARTIN • Monitor staff
Not long ago, meeting a mate online was an oddity. Today, it is almost the norm, according to Gian Gonzaga, PhD, senior director of research and evelopment at the dating site eHarmony.
“The Internet is the single largest contributor to newlywed
couples in the United States — more than friends, church, even
school,” said Gonzaga. eHarmony itself, he said, accounts for
almost 5 percent of U.S. newlywed couples.
But perhaps a more important fact for psychologists is that
the Web 3.0 technology that brought these couples together also
offers a fertile platform for scientists to conduct research. “This
technology can facilitate a new era of research on a scale we
haven’t had before,” said Gonzaga at a session during APA’s 2011
That’s because Web 3.0 is much more interactive than its
predecessors, Gonzaga explained. Web 1.0, launched in 1993,
was primarily driven by content that came from the top down:
Businesses and other institutions would put information online
and search engines allowed people to find it. In 2003, Web 2.0
took the technology a step further by enabling consumers to
upload and share their own information, resulting in the era of
Facebook, You Tube and Twitter.
Today, the applications available through Web 3.0 are able
to take information that’s on the Web and churn out new
findings for users. “The Web can give something back that was
not previously known,” said Gonzaga. “Web 3.0 learns and
understands who you are and gives you something back.”
A good example of this is Amazon’s “recommender system,”
which tracks what you’ve looked at and bought, and uses that
information to recommend new products to you.
eHarmony was one of the earliest recommender systems. It
applied the long-held theory that relationships are more likely
to be successful when partners share similar characteristics.
eHarmony learns about the personalities, values and emotional
tendencies of its users and then uses its Web 3.0 technology to
recommend compatible matches. When eHarmony studied the
marriages that resulted from the service, the company found
that those couples who had similar personalities were more
satisfied with their relationship up to four year later, evidence
that the previous psychological theory was true: Marriages are
more successful when partners are similar.
“We’ve been able to show that a principle that’s been out
there in the scientific literature for a while actually does play
out,” said Gonzaga. “That’s a very fundamental change … that
has never been available to us before.”
Gonzaga cautioned, however, that researchers need to think
very carefully about the applications. To take ideas that work
in the lab or in clinicians’ rooms and apply them on the Web,
the applications must be effective and powerful, they must be
scalable and people have to like using them.
“These tools will allow psychologists to have a bigger voice
and to hopefully help more people,” he said. n