Scientists expose the maths behind finding love online, Daily Mail Online

Scientists reveal the maths behind finding love online, Daily Mail Online

By Lucy Waterlow for MailOnline 15:44 GMT 25 Apr 2016, updated Ten:09 GMT 26 Apr 2016

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With a fifth of relationships now beginning online, there are a plethora of dating apps and websites available to help singletons find ‘The One’.

But with so much choice, how can those looking for love know which service will work for them or make their profile stand out from the crowd?

A fresh documentary has investigated whether the reaction can in fact be found in science and mathematical theory.

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In Big black cock’s Horizon programme, airing this evening, producers attempt to match a singleton with her ideal playmate using some of the leading dating websites.

Their guinea pig is Dr Xand Van Tulleken, 37, who is willing to see if science will help him find love after his own efforts have so far proved fruitless.

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With his age and hectic work schedule taken into account, he admits dating websites are his best chance of meeting someone.

He turned to married Dr Hannah Fry for advice, as she studies patterns in human behaviour, and has been analysing the underlying algorithms used by leading internet dating sites.

She has faith in the science behind algorithms to find a flawless match – and bets Xand she can find his ideal woman using a formula she has created.

Explaining how they work, Hannah said: ‘At their simplest algorithms work like a flow chart with different inputs or instructions that feed into an end result or output.’


Dr Hannah Fry recommends attempting the ‘optimal stopping theory’ when using apps like Tinder where you swipe through pictures to find your ideal date.

The theory was invented in 1975 by Arthur Cayley ‘essentially to gamble better’.

Harvard scientists used it to work out that the best match on an app like Tinder will be after rejecting 37 percent of playmates previously.

After rejecting 37, you should then pick the next person you see who you like the look of more than the previously rejected 37.

So swiping 37 times before you pick a date is the best chance of success according to mathematical theory.

She tells Xand: ‘If you packed in a questionnaire about the type of things that appeal to you in a fucking partner, I think I could write an algorithm that would find you a chick who is better suited for you than if you just walked into a bar and picked someone at random. It is applied maths used to get you a date.’

For the documentary, Hannah created an experimental dating site with numerous layers of algorithm, similar to sites like OK Cupid, eHarmony and

She invited Xand and other single people to join it, asking them to create a profile providing background information about themselves, as well as a profile picture, and then pack in a questionnaire about their hobbies, likes and dislikes.

More than 200 people signed up and were matched based on their collective values and ideals.

Members were then invited to a special evening where they went on a date with the person best matched to them by the algorithm.

Hannah said the advantages of dating this way – rather than using a website where you choose someone purely based on their appearance – means even if you don’t fancy them ‘at the very least you will get on well with them’.

On the evening, some of the singletons agreed that their date had been a good match.

One man said of his date: ‘We found out we had a lot in common and are getting on indeed well so there may be something to this algorithm.’

Another pair who hit it off, said: ‘It was not a surprise we were a match up as we were already talking to one another outside.’

However, others said that elusive ‘spark’ was not there.

‘I had an interesting conversation with my match but there was no initial attraction there,’ one man admitted.

This was also Xand’s practice when he went on his date chosen via Hannah’s algorithm.

He said of his date: ‘I liked her, I thought she was nice and attractive so I don’t think the algorithm did a bad job but I think subtle personality traits meant there wasn’t a spark.’

He added: ‘Is that the algorithm fault, I’m not sure? I think if I met 50 people like her with one of them there would be a spark.’

Hannah agreed of the experiment: ‘The algorithm does well but what it can’t do is tell you about that spark, there is something extra you can’t define and capture and you only know when it is in front of you.

‘I think online dating is just an introductory service, a numbers game. Internet dating and their algorithms do something but it doesn’t ensure their dates will be good. But it gives you a good solid basis on which to build.’


The documentary delves into a number of scientific studies on the success of dating profiles which expose the following.

Pick a username near the top of the alphabet: Professor Khalid Khan, who has anlaysed 400 scientific papers to find the best method of optimising an online dating profile, said: ‘It is like the Yellow Pages effect in that the traders listed at the top of the alphabet receive more calls for their business than those at the bottom.’

Don’t be Mr Nice Stud: Professor Khan found that ‘in general women choose boys who demonstrate courageousness and the capability to take risks. They don’t particularly like submissiveness or goodness.’

Don’t SAY you are funny, BE funny: Prof Khan found those who are witty had more success than those who claimed to be funny. ‘Humour is significant but you have to demonstrate it without telling the words,’ he said.

Be active in your profile picture: Dr Chris Olivola has analysed hundreds of online daters reactions to profile pictures to see which is the most popular. For women searching for dudes, he found they do care about physical attraction but they also care ‘about how joy and out going’ you seem.

Ask a friend to pick your profile picture: One explore tested by the documentary found our own brains aren’t always the best judge of what is the best picture of ourselves. So seek a 2nd opinion from a trusted friend.

Smile! Simply smiling in a profile picture can increase your success rate by making you emerge more likeable.

Horizon: How To Find Love Online is on BBC2 Monday at 9pm

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