Internet dating, psychometric style
January 9, 2012 | By:

So many candidates, so little information. That's why some sites use personality tests to match kindred spirits. Markie Robson-Scott answers the questions

INTERNET DATING_PSYCHOMETRIC TESTS Couple on beach-620 Corbis 42-19156916

How two people view the world can be analysed to determine their compatibility. Photo from Corbis

What room temperature do you prefer? How important is it that your partner is able to stand up to you? How do you like to enjoy music: playing an instrument, listening to your iPod, going to a festival, listening to the car radio? What style of bedroom do you like? How important is sex to you?

There are hundreds of questions – some multiple choice, some on a sliding scale, others with accompanying images – but all with one aim in mind: to pair you with the perfect partner. In the world of internet dating (the grown-up, long-term kind) the personality test is king. Forget photos: they come later, or in a blurred format, and only when you feel ready to show one to your potential beloved.

Whether you can be bothered to do such a test is a measure of how serious you are about finding the perfect partner. Youniverse, “a happy place where people discover and share their VisualDNA”, takes some of the effort away by allowing you to create your profile quickly by looking at a grid of photos and answering questions by clicking on an image. According to VisualDNA and Youniverse founder, ex-Conran executive Alex Willcock, it is a more powerful way of obtaining a fast and emotional, rather than text-based and rational, response.

By the end, you’ve built up a pattern resulting in a profile and can contact others on the site who match it. I zip through the 12 questions in a few minutes. Which is the most romantic: roses, a couple dancing in a kitchen, a note saying “I love you” pinned to a lampshade, a couple sheltering from the rain? What is art to you: Van Gogh, the ballet, a tattoo, a shell? Which would spark conversation: books, records, kids, a laptop, a racing car?

I choose the same scene several times: where would you like to be right now? Where will your next holiday be? What’s one of life’s little pleasures? Answers: the beach, the beach, the beach. So when my VisualDNA turns out to be an Easy Rider, it doesn’t exactly seem like rocket science: “You’re romantic with a taste for the exotic. You love feeling the sea breeze on your hair, sun on your skin. Your choice of drink [mojito] reflects extravagant but classic tastes.”

16 personality types

Parship is more heavy duty. Martina, 43, took two hours to answer the 80 or so questions on the Parship dating site. It took her now-husband Robert, 51 (they’ve been married for three years) over an hour, though the site estimates it should take 20 minutes. Honesty and careful consideration of each question are what’s important, says Robert, if you really want to find the right person. It was the first time Martina, an author and (erstwhile) single mother who lives in Berlin, had tried online dating.

“I was quite impressed,” she says. “Several possibilities came up but Robert had the highest score. We were 84 per cent compatible.” There was no one she liked the look of in Germany, so Martina pressed the ‘worldwide’ button (Parship operates in more than 14 countries and has ten million members across Europe). Robert, a university clerical officer from England, popped up. Eventually, after much emailing, she sent him an old black and white photo of herself.

“When we met, it was as if we knew each other already,” says Robert, who moved to Berlin soon after they met five years ago.

The Parship questionnaire was developed by Professor Hans Schmale (aged 79, divorced) of Hamburg University and has been specially developed, says the site, for matchmaking: “It covers a total of 30 characteristics that play a determining role in the quality of a relationship. Through encoded sequences of questions and the association of scenarios and images, the test ensures that it does not merely produce results that the user has biased as far as possible in his/her favour.”

However, it is similar in concept – as are the tests on other websites such as matchaffinity – to the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, used by companies when hiring staff and based loosely on Jungian principles.

The MBTI identifies 16 personality types, including those who are oriented to the outer world rather than the inner, those who use intuition rather than assessment of facts, and those who prefer to plan and follow routine as opposed to living spontaneously.

“Are you best described as emotive and spontaneous or calm and thoughtful?” matchaffinity asks me. “Efficient or relaxed? Extrovert or introvert? Saver or spender? Do you live for the moment or plan for the future?”

The Parship test assesses an individual’s personality across 30 sub-scales, then uses a complex mathematical algorithm to provide a compatibility score for all potential matches on the database. Its developers say, “Only the members who are a good match in terms of personality are suggested as potential partners, and they are then ranked in order of their scores.”

All very well, but who’s to say that the personality isn’t constantly in flux? Jung himself said, “Every individual is the exception to the rule.” What symbolises freedom to me today may not do so tomorrow. Doesn’t it depend what mood you’re in when you’re doing these tests, whether pictorial or text based?

Relationships counsellor Denise Knowles agrees. She says, “There’s something that bothers me about filtering in this way. It might not look on paper as if you’d get on [with someone] but there might be some mysterious unknown element that a relationship could be built upon.”

On the other hand, if you’re a 50-something ‘secondary single’, as Parship calls those who are re-entering the dating pool, maybe you are thankfully divorced from someone whose unknown element became all too unpleasantly known. Perhaps the knowledge that wild cards will be filtered out can be comforting. Especially in my case. My Parship personality assessment says I’m all instinct and not enough intellect, and find it difficult “to let common sense and rational considerations take precedence over the temptation to act spontaneously”.

This, Parship warns me sternly, could mean that passion might lead me to make a hasty and ill-advised decision. Best take an algorithm on my first date, then.

See sample questions from Parship

Visit Parship, Match Affinity or Youniverse