GDI recently interviewed Dr. Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist from the University of Oxford, who was one of the scientists that helped to match up singles who applied to take part in the Channel 4 show, Married at First Sight.
As the title suggests, the show sees contestants get married to people they have never met before, after undergoing a rigorous matching system, with each person being assessed by a panel of experts in the fields of psychology, social & evolutionary anthropology, and theology.
Can you introduce who you are, and what you do?
I am Dr. Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist from the University of Oxford.
Can you describe what your role on Married At First Sight is?
My role is to collect data informed by what we know about the biological and evolutionary aspects of dating behaviour. So I collected data which was informed by our knowledge of what it is men and women both want from a long term relationship, in terms of physical attraction and personality.
Why did you want to join the project? What interested you most about it?
This is a unique opportunity for a scientist. Usually we find out what makes long term relationships work by finding people who have been together for a long time and seeing what they all have in common from a biological and psychological viewpoint. This is retrospective research. So Married At First Sight was a unique opportunity to test our theories in a prospective study. So matching people based on our theories and then testing how they do.
What is your background in? What are your main areas of interest?
I am an evolutionary anthropologist. My main areas of research are the neurobiology, psychology and evolution of long term close human relationships such as between family members, close friends, lovers, and parents and their children.
What sort of matching processes do you put the singles through?
I collect data regarding certain key body measurements which are indicative of genetic health, strength and commitment (for the men) and fertility and health (for the women). These included the waist hip ratio for women, the shoulder waist ratio for men, and a measure of facial symmetry and 2D:4D for both sexes.
I also collect genetic data regarding a set of genes linked to the key neurochemicals involved in romantic partnerships (oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and beta endorphin) to inform the matching. The aim of this was, combined with information about the environment of upbringing, to make sure I matched people with compatible attachment styles and genetic profiles.
What was the test you saw as most important to ensure compatibility?
There is no single test as human mating is multifactorial – a complete profile is required for matching, which is why I collect so many different forms of data. These are then used to build a biological and psychological profile for every individual, which is then used for matching with a compatible partner.
Out of the processes you used, are there any which compare to the ones you’ve seen, or heard about, on online dating?
No, I don’t think so as mine are very biological and probably not suitable for online dating where the individual is at a distance from the process. The only one that some sites do use is an attachment measure.
What do you think is the most important thing for two people to be compatible?
We know from research that regardless of sex the most important thing that people want is someone who is kind and committed. If you have that then other things can follow. Having said that, a compatible attachment profile is very important.
What do you think is the most important thing for sustaining a stable relationship?
Empathising and being very open about communicating. If you cannot see the other point of view then it makes resolving the inevitable differences very difficult.
What surprised you most about the experiment?
That there are so many brave people who wanted to take part! Putting your future in the hands of experts who you don’t know shows an incredible amount of faith and commitment.
Was there anything you used in the matching process and tests that you think dating sites could use to connect people?
If they went for a more bespoke service then certainly they could use body measurement, facial symmetry and even genetics but it would mean meeting people to collect data.
In the years to come, how do you think online dating sites of the future will be matching people up – what are the next frontiers, either technologically or scientifically, for connecting people?
We are learning more and more about the genetics of relationships so I think this will certainly be something that, in future, may come into play.
Find out more about Married At First Sight here.