Dating Magazine > Features > Compatibility
The Truth About Compatibility
by James Houran, Ph.D.
compatibility tests – they’re the latest
trend among online dating and relationship sites. Compatibility
testing refers to a method of pairing unfamiliar people
for long-term, romantic relationships. These pairings
of couples from a pool of eligible singles are typically
based on some combination of physical and social demographics
and personality profiling. This type of compatibility
testing and assessment varies from and is arguably
more difficult than in-person programs or workshops
like “PREPARE and ENRICH,” which assess
existing couples on the critical tasks related to early
developing and publishing various forms of compatibility
tests and academically reviewing the tests of others,
I’ve established myself as an expert in the field.
Indeed, both the dating industry and the academic community
recognize my expertise. Unfortunately, I get the impression
that many online dating services don’t want the
consumers to be so informed on the subject. You see,
compatibility testing done well is a powerful tool.
But, compatibility testing done wrong is a powerful
way to hurt your chances for finding lasting love.
Let me reiterate – compatibility testing done
right works for you; compatibility testing done wrong
works against you. In this article, I’ll outline
what you need to know in order to answer two important
1) Should you use a compatibility test?
2) How can you tell if a particular compatibility
test is legitimate?
Compatibility Testing: Old Wine in New Bottles
interest you to know that “automated” matchmaking
is hardly new. In fact, it was alive and kicking well
before the antediluvian TV show “Law & Order” was
on the air. Structured or formalized compatibility
testing is arguably rooted in or at least inspired
by St. Valentine’s Day, which in turn has its
origins in ancient Rome. February marked the beginning
of spring and a time of purification. Ancient Romans
celebrated a fertility festival, Lupercalia, commencing
February 15th. Young women practiced the ritual of
placing their names in an urn from which bachelors
would select the year’s companion. Often these
pairings resulted in marriage. Later, in 498 A.D.,
Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s
Day, and the Roman lottery system – frowned upon
as an un-Christian practice – became outlawed.
course, "outlawed" doesn’t mean
anthropologists have well documented the historic practice
of arranged marriages across our globe since Roman
times. It may sound odd to think of arranged marriages
as compatibility testing, but it does make some sense
when you think about it. Arranged marriages were about
economic security and political solidarity between
families. As such, parents were careful to arrange
marriages between couples that met certain economic,
geographic, and demographic criteria. To their way
of thinking, those were the most salient elements for
a “compatible” relationship. Even in contemporary
Western cultures where we emphasize love and emotional
security over economic security, we still factor in
variables such as income and education levels, geography
and demographics when we search for and decide on a
partner. In an online dating profile, we call this
identifying your "personal preferences." So,
in a way, today’s computerized matchmaking and
compatibility testing is simply a modernized Lupercalia
It is also interesting to note that Internet companies
like eHarmony.com and PerfectMatch didn’t
pioneer computer matchmaking. In 1956 Art Linkletter,
of the popular television show People Are Funny, matched
a couple using a computer. Time magazine reported,
"Remington Rand’s Univac No. 21 turned Cupid,
brought together a flesh-and-blood couple as scientifically
marriage mates'" (Nov 19, 1956). Time also
noted that the couple was paired based on a 32-item
questionnaire developed by “The Father of American
Marriage Counseling,” Paul Popenoe, Ph.D. The
happy couple became engaged, and Art Linkletter offered
to pay the airfare for their Paris honeymoon. Following
the Univac No. 21 experiment, the computer dating craze
blossomed through the 1970s and 80s, thanks in large
part to the research and entrepreneurship of Glenn
Wilson, Ph.D., the psychologist I affectionately refer
to as “The Father of Modern Compatibility Testing."
The recent advent of the Internet and a plethora of
services have now radically expanded
opportunities for singles to pursue relationships via
computerized matchmaking – to be sure, one needs
only to browse a selection of online dating sites to
see collections of "testimonials" from
couples who met through these services and are now
married. In this sense, computer matchmaking has evolved
from an entertainment vehicle to a commercial enterprise
that is often being advertised to the public as a health
and human service organization operated by relationship
and testing experts. Perhaps it is ironic that "compatibility
testing" can also be seen as a modern epidemic
or obsession of sorts – just Google the
phrase and you’ll be overwhelmed by no less than
15,100,00 entries. Googling "online compatibility testing"
will only slightly relieve the whiplash with a staggering
you blindly throw your money and hope into a compatibility
test, let’s try to make sense
of this apparent craze. Time to revisit those two important
Should you use a compatibility test?
It sounds like a
simple "yes" or "no" question,
but it’s actually more complex than that. It
might surprise you to hear this from me, but, in my
view, compatibility tests aren’t for everyone.
The decision to use one depends on your particular
personal goals and even your mental stamina. Online
daters should consider six crucial issues to arrive
at a decision:
1) Are you looking for a lasting relationship
or a one-night stand?
If you’re using online dating to find a one-night
stand or a long-term fling with no emotional attachment,
then a compatibility test is a complete waste of time.
However, I highly recommend their use if you’re
using online dating to seriously cull romantic prospects
for those with “relationship material.”
you have realistic expectations about compatibility
Nearly everyone loves the concept of a “soul
mate,” but holding out for the “perfect
partner” is not the way to go. Simply put, there
is no such thing as the “perfect partner.” Idealizing
a mate is a recipe for headache and heartache – and
so is the belief that a compatibility test is the answer
to your relationship prayers. Compatibility tests are
simply tools to help you gain further insight into
the temperament, personality, attitudes and behavior
of a prospect and how his/her psychological DNA will
likely interact with your own. The results of a compatibility
test should never be the sole basis for the decisions
you make about pursuing a relationship. If you’re
expecting a compatibility test to do most of the
work for you, then walk away from it. However, it
a good idea if you understand their limitations as
well as benefits.
3) Do you honestly have the money to
invest in a service with a test?
Let me be extremely bold here – good psychological
tests and assessments are expensive to create. How
expensive? Well, the Illinois State Board of Education,
like other states, spends about 5 million dollars per
year to update their achievement tests. Most people
are shocked by this, but they’d have a new appreciation
for the academics behind test creation if they knew
what the steps were. I won’t dare bore you with
them now, but sometime check out those procedures in
the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing
(AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999/2002, Washington, DC:
Author). Therefore, it’s completely reasonable
for a website to charge a premium for offering a legitimate
and good compatibility test (more on those criteria
below). If you can’t truly afford this premium,
then don’t invest in a compatibility test right
now. Yes, a compatibility test really is an investment – of
time, money, and continued energy following up on
the results. But, it can be a wise investment if
honestly afford one.
4) Do you have the time and attention
to devote to researching the services and making
an informed decision?
Most reasonable and educated people don’t make
a major purchase like an automobile or a house without
doing their homework first. Likewise, you shouldn’t
instantly buy into any given compatibility test without
doing some investigation and contemplation. After all,
the effects of choosing a potential mate will affect
you longer and more deeply than any home or vehicle.
Therefore, don’t consider a compatibility test
unless you’re willing to do your due diligence
and see what tests are on the market and what each
test has going for and against it. Compatibility tests
only do part of the work for you; it’s then
up to you to follow-up on the results in a responsible
way. This can be done only if you have a good understanding
of the test and feel comfortable with it.
5) Do you have
the mental and emotional strength for it?
Compatibility tests are first and foremost personality
tests. That is, they are psychological mirrors which
can tell you much about who you are, how you tend
to behave and what attracts and motivates you. Reading
an objective and clinical assessment about oneself
can be stirring and wonderful for self awareness
growth. On the other hand, it can also be a frightening
and destabilizing experience for someone who’s
not entirely ready to see themselves and their needs
and wants in the sobering and clear light of day.
I would avoid compatibility tests if even the sound
blatant and honest feedback" is threatening
to you. Compatibility testing – like dating
and courtship in general – is often a growing
experience. Expect growing pains!
6) Do you have the patience for the
Related to the notion of realistic expectations is
the concept of patience. Many online daters will
attest that initial match results from a compatibility
can be disillusioning, if not downright painful.
People tend to equate "chemistry" with "compatibility."
a fair expectation to an extent – all modern
theories and models of love and attachment do incorporate
passion and physical attraction into the compatibility
equation. But compatibility is not exclusively synonymous
with physical passion – there’s much
more to long-term compatibility than that! The job
good compatibility test is not to match you to a
million, hot singles. It bears repeating: Compatibility
are simply tools to help you gain further insight
into the temperament, personality, attitudes and
of a prospect and how his/her psychological DNA will
likely interact with your own.
How can you tell
if a particular compatibility test is legitimate?
public has a right to be skeptical about online personality
and compatibility testing. Public exposure
to professional testing has been quite limited. The
public is more familiar with fun little quizzes in
magazines and entertainment websites – like the “What
Kind of Dog are You?” quiz or tests that assess
the strength of your "morals and ethics" by
having you select your likely behavior in a given scenario.
These tests are fun diversions, but they’re usually
not the real thing. Unfortunately, evidence for many
advertised compatibility tests is either blatantly
missing or lacking in scientific standards.
It's not appropriate here for me to hype up
or tear down particular compatibility tests on the
market. Rather, I want to pass along four important
issues to consider as you research the various tests
and decide which is best for you:
1) Who created the test?
It’s an obvious question, but a crucial one.
After all, one of first questions I hear children on
an airplane ask the pilot is, “Hey, how long
have you been flying anyway?” Out of the mouth
of babes! Well, it’s no different for personality
and compatibility testing – take time to find
out if the test was actually developed by professionals
who have the academic expertise and professional experience
to know what they’re doing. Some relevant academic
fields are clinical psychology, social psychology and
of course let’s not forget tests and measurements.
But, any ole’ doctorate doesn’t make the
creator of a compatibility test qualified. I would
be very skeptical of a test created by a doctor of
say botany, physical education or English literature.
And, I would be just as skeptical if I saw an academician
endorse a particular test who also had no direct expertise
and experience with professional psychological testing.
Don’t be impressed with Ph.D.s per se, university
settings or fancy endorsements – dig deeper and
consider only the specific and relevant credentials
of the test’s creators.
2) What is the theory behind
There’s no shortage of psychological theories
for love and attachment. Sometimes these theories
overlap and other times they contradict one another.
also true that all responsible developers of compatibility
tests have access to and should consult the same
body of scientific data on long-term compatibility.
there is a debate in the field over the best formula
for compatibility: some say the best couples are
very similar to one another (the similarity hypothesis)
across many characteristics, whereas others argue
the best couples have similarities and differences
across their characteristics (the complementarity
hypothesis). In other words, we are dealing with
a feather flock together" versus "opposites
attract." Most compatibility tests adhere to
one or the other theory, so investigate tests closely
to discover exactly how a given test is pairing you
with romantic prospects. You might hear that a great
deal of research suggests that similarity is a better
predictor of relationship quality than complementarity.
Well, any academic who really knows the scientific
studies also knows that this conclusion is a gross
oversimplification. The degree of similarity observed
depends on the particular individual-difference domain
studied, with romantic partners showing strong similarity
in age, political, and religious attitudes; moderate
similarity in education, general intelligence, and
values; and little or no similarity in personality
characteristics. Thus, similarity between all of
a couple’s personal characteristics is an approach
to matching that is overly rigid and misguided. Just
keep in mind that couples who are too similar can
face relationship conflicts and hazards exactly like
who are too dissimilar.
3) What is the evidence behind
One of the first things professionals evaluate in
a test is its "psychometrics," i.e., the
statistical evidence for a test’s reliability
and validity. In a court of law, personal experience
or testimonials is among the strongest types of evidence.
But in the scientific world, it is one of the weakest.
Marketers of tests like to tout testimonials of happy
customers to "prove" that a given test
works. My advice is not to be swayed by any testimonials.
Testimonials are absolutely worthless outside of
serving marketing and PR motives, and chances are
picture of the couple that corresponds to the testimonial
is not even a picture of a real couple. The problem
with testimonials is that they don’t give accurate
assessments of the quality and effectiveness of a
compatibility test. Hearing about a positive experience
from a couple
who used a given test makes us all feel good and
sounds persuasive. Yet, take a step back and you’ll
realize that one testimonial tells you nothing about
the outcomes of the other thousand couples that also
took the compatibility test. It’s much better
to ask the company with the compatibility test for
scientific documentation like a white paper, conference
presentation or journal article for the test’s
reliability and validity. What you’re interested
in is whether the compatibility test was constructed
in accordance with professional testing standards
as set forth in the Standards for Educational and
Testing (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999/2002, Washington,
DC: Author). If you’ve friends or coworkers
who are scientifically-minded, ask them to review
the “evidence” to
see what impresses or concerns them about the "science"
behind the test. One strong word of caution: don’t
use any compatibility test if the company offering
have any scientific documentation for it or won’t
share that documentation with you.
4) Who else has evaluated
the evidence behind the test?
The essence of good
science is peer review. Internal white papers or
conference presentations with lax standards
about the "science" behind a compatibility
test are no substitutes for research that has been
carefully scrutinized by experts – such as
in a journal publication or prestigious conference.
best compatibility tests are ones with psychometrics
that have been academically published. Such tests
are the exception, not the rule, but they do exist.
tests may not be published, but rather “independently
certified or audited” by an outside expert.
Some tests have both. This currently popular trend
auditing was started by True.com.
Some companies see this approach as a compromise
and maintenance of proprietary information. Unfortunately,
not all auditors were created equal. Look carefully
at the credentials of any outside expert or organization.
Once again, be skeptical of any endorsement from
a source with no recognized expertise and experience
with professional psychological testing.
to Win in the "Lottery" that is Compatibility
A compatibility test can be an effective tool
for helping you learn more about yourself and cull
prospects… as long as it’s a legitimate,
science-based product. However, compatibility tests
should never be used in isolation from your common
sense and intuition as you interact with prospects.
Remember that compatibility tests are not the “be
all, end all” – they’re not substitutes
for meeting and getting to know others. They merely
help that process along.
from the fact that most compatibility tests take
a long time to complete, the biggest complaint I
hear is that compatibility tests don’t always
match you with people that you find physically attractive.
That’s an understandable gripe, but then again,
you have hormones and a limbic system in your body
that tend to quickly and easily tell you when there
is chemistry with another person. What is considerably
more difficult is evaluating whether a person has relationship
potential. I define that as psychological compatibility – a
lasting connection on emotional and intellectual levels.
Those attachments are the real bonds that keep a couple
together over the long-term. Passion naturally ebbs
and flows over the course of a relationship, but companionship,
intimacy and commitment tend to grow. Unfortunately,
in Western culture we’re all taught at an early
age to look for and put more stock in the physical
and passionate aspects of love, rather than the comfort
and security that come from these other deeper, mature
With these caveats in mind, personality and compatibility
testing can have tremendous value to serious online
daters. Just keep perspective on it all, and I sincerely
hope this article helps you do that.
friend and colleague Dr. Glenn Wilson described compatibility
testing best when he wrote, "It
will not tell you whether or not you are going to fall
in love with another person in a compulsive, ‘chemical’ way,
just whether or not it is a good idea if you do" (CQ: Learn the Secret of Lasting Love, 2003, p.
viii, London: Fusion Press, p. viii).
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