Technology Meets Relationship Science Research: Part I

collage of a man and woman standing on a desk with a computer

“I would live in the metaverse [No, it’s called “real” estate…. Hand over the VR set]” 

Clearly, we have some tech-lovers on our team that allow such questions to come into existence. Last week, the relationship science team had an interesting debate on whether attitudes toward technology correlate with traditionalism — or how likely one is to maintain and preserve cultural, religious, and family traditions. 

Although we weren’t able to find research to resolve that specific debate, I was left with one question that inspired today’s piece: How are new technologies used in relationship science research?

One of the greatest mysteries of relationship science is the question of how humans actually make their mate choices: How does our decision-making mechanism operate when we’re choosing a romantic partner?  

Different branches of psychology (social, evolutionary, and cognitive to name a few) have theorized on human mate choice—ending up with theories that have their own strengths and limitations. 

Daniel Conroy-Beam, a professor of Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology at UC Santa Barbara, took on the challenge of integrating all these different theories on mate choice within a computational model: 

Conroy-Beam’s series of studies initially took a sample of real-life couples to understand their personality and values, as well as their ideal mate preferences. Following these assessments, they created ‘SIMS-like’ simulations of all the individuals in the sample where couples were separated from each other and were placed on a quest to find love as ‘single’ people in a computer simulation.  Conroy-Beam then observed whether these simulations chose their original partners again. The objective of the research was to find the optimal decision-making algorithm that would maximize the percentage of simulations actually choosing their original partners. In other words, can we replicate how humans make real-life mate choices?

The optimal decision-making algorithm, namely the Resource Allocation Model, was able to reproduce 50-55% of the existing couples in the computer simulation, which is pretty high considering that random pairing was only able to reproduce 2-5%. 

If you want to learn more about the science behind this algorithm that was able to make half of the participants choose their real-life partners again in a computer simulation, stay tuned for part II!