This week, BBC 3 launched it’s new science show The year of making love. It was advertised as the UK’s unique experiment into dating; can science help you find love?
Now, this isn’t usually something I would sit down and watch. But the talk of science tickled my fancy, and I wanted to know more.
So, this morning I caught up with the show on iPlayer. It claims to put the science of compatibility to the test by pairing up 500 couples, scientifically predicted to be suitably matched. But does it?
“Couples are put together in a lab” and greet each other for the first time on stage in front of the other candidates. The newly introduced couples are then given some time to get to know each other, before deciding if they want to continue with the experiment. If they do, their progress will be monitored for a year, to see if science is better than Cupid.
It sounds a bit like a TV version of online dating…
The two experts that “believe you’ll be luckier in love if you take a scientific approach” are Tomas Chamorro Premuzic, a personality profiling expert and professor of business psychology at UCL, and Emma Kenny, a behavioural psychologist.
They are both extremely well qualified in their respective fields, and have potentially put together an interesting experiment. But somehow BBC 3 has managed to skid over this…
It alludes to the fact that this was an experiment by really emphasising the word science:
“Well done science!”
“Can love be created in a lab?”
“Can science really help us find our perfect match?”
“Each [person] has been selected by science as one half of a compatible pair.”
Well…they’ll give it all a go, but cannot guarantee results.
The experts only seem to contribute comments like “I like it, it may just work” as they watch the couples meet each other on stage. We don’t get any scientific insight from them at all.
Is this doing science any favours? Or is it cheapening science by using it to promote a dating program? Or it is telling us that the chemistry we fell between those we fall for has a scientific basis?
With all this of talk of science, it didn’t actually tell us anything about how the experiment was set up, what the parameters where, how they chose the subjects, whether or not there were any controls… so how do we know how the couples are matched? They give us clues like “they both scored highly on loyalty” as a pair walks to greet each other. Does this mean I can safely assume they are using psychological matching?
But the science of compatibility is tested in many ways; you can be matched up with your perfect partner using psychology, technology, biology and even maths. eHarmony.com even has its own secret love labs in Pasadena California. So which method they used, one can only guess.
Is it even the science they are trying to communicate? Do they want to show a scientific method? Or just the results? On the surface, it doesn’t look like we actually get to see any science happening at all. It appears that they are using the authoritative voice that science is believed to have, to promote the show. Science is socially accepted to know the answers, to be able to get to the bottom of the big questions, so ultimately some people like Danny, one of the contestants, will believe “that science can find me the perfect partner because… they’re scientists right? They can find out anything.”
Science is an unpredictable beast that doesn’t always go according to plan, has lots of errors, a significant amount of guess-work, and often not much of a solid set-in-stone method.
So, it’s interesting to see that without telling the audience directly, the show is actually portraying this unpredictable side of science; that science doesn’t always get it right. It has some successful couples getting together, some giving it a go but being completely miss matched. And according to someone who took part, some people didn’t even stay to meet their potential partners.
For this reason, I think the show could maybe redeem itself. But I don’t know how many people will pick up on it. I imagine the majority of the audience will focus on the blossoming (or wilting) relationships that develop in the series.
I wonder what audience this show was intended for, and what they think of it? I find it difficult to believe that the scientific population will be spending their Monday evenings watching it. Maybe they wanted to show the younger generations that aren’t interested in science in the slightest, just what science is capable of?
How this show develops, I’m interested to see. I’ll be watching The Year of Making Love as my own experiment; to see how well science communication is used, and whether or not it continues to subliminally tell it’s audience what science is really like. I highly doubt I’ll fall in love with the show, but who knows?