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Can on-line “compatibility” tests find you true love? Or, how we blew up my brother’s calculator
by Janet Jacobsen
Nov/Dec 2003 issue

by Janet L. Jacobsen

Reader’s Digest reports that some cyber-personals services are now offering on-line comparability tests. One test includes 480 questions and the service reports to match only those who are 85% compatible. That means you’d have to click on 408 questions.

But think about it. Most folks are only interested in dating people within about ten years of their age. Assuming an equal distribution of age groups, this will put about 25% in your compatible range.
Smoking/nonsmoking is another key screening factor. Less than 30% of the population smokes these days, so assuming you’re a nonsmoker you take out 30% and you’re down to 17.5% of the original group. Of course, we have to consider that half of those in the pool are not the sex you want to meet, so you have 8.75% of the possibilities remaining.

So far we’ve screened for three factors - age, sex, and smoking preference - and we’re down to less than 9% of the original group. Now consider a few of the more obvious - and limiting - choices: kids/no kids; pets/no pets; lives nearby; religion; education. You can see that the likelihood of an 85% “match” on a dozen questions, let alone 408, gets pretty small.

Let’s assume that all of the remaining 405 categories on which we need to match are simply yes/no questions. (That gives us our best chance of agreement - 50%.) I wanted to figure the odds of getting that degree of matching out for the remaining 405 categories. So I called Eric, my electrical engineer brother, and asked him to do the calculation. The number was too small for even his best calculator to figure. Miniscule. Less than miniscule.

Still, the company in question might say that if the service has a million people signed up, there could be a chance of them finding you an 85% match. Except, said Eric, they only get to choose from those in the service who were actually willing to fill out a 480-item questionnaire, and, as Eric said, “Who’s going to do that!?!”
It’s a cool marketing premise. It got them mentioned in Reader’s Digest, after all. But is it a real service?