Every Valentine’s Day since 2020, the Aphrodite Project, a student-run matchmaking program, has paired U of T students and alumni based on their answers to a questionnaire about lifestyle preferences, values, and personality. The Aphrodite Project runs in universities across the world, from U of T and the University of British Columbia to Harvard University and the University of Hong Kong.
Sign-ups for the 2023 program opened on January 23, 2023, and closed on February 9, 2023. Match results were released on February 13, 2023. This year, 3,563 students, or 8 percent of the U of T’s student population, signed up for the Aphrodite Project. To learn more about how the program works, The Medium spoke to Aiden Low, co-founder of the Aphrodite Project.
The “science” is based on a paper that builds on the Gale-Shapley algorithm, which is associated with a 2012 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. “We take the questionnaire, and from there we generate a preference list for every single participant,” explains Low. The program ranks the participants within a given pool, after which “We run the stable matching algorithm off that.”
Other dating apps like Hinge also utilize the Gale-Shapely algorithm, but the Aphrodite Project stands out due to the questionnaire it uses. “We try to be really intentional about all the factors that would make a meaningful match,” says Low. Participants in the romantic pool can set dealbreakers, including gender, age, religion, ethnicity, and which campus they attend, whereas those in the platonic pool cannot. Along with the dealbreakers, Low says the questionnaire includes questions about OCEAN personality factors, habits, values, concrete plans for the future, and one focusing on hobbies that use natural language processing.
To ensure the program works as intended, the Aphrodite Project team synthesized psychology papers to determine factors that make a meaningful match possible. In addition to the research, Low states that the team uses their own data models based on past reports to improve the algorithm.
In 2022, the Aphrodite Project team added several new elements to the program, including the ability to block certain people from being your match, new profile features, and the ability to “matchmake” for your friends. “There [are] definitely quite a few [algorithm] improvements underneath the hood,” says Low, explaining some changes to the 2023 run. “We also use a natural language processing model, so we use an updated model, because there’s a lot of improvements in the natural language space.”
Missing from the graphs is data about dealbreakers, which was an intentional decision “to avoid perpetuating any harmful stereotypes about the social desirability of any sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or diet,” Low explains. In response to community suggestions to disallow “dealbreakers” altogether, the Aphrodite Project team released a statement, explaining that “[The Aphrodite Project team] disabling these options does not magically wave away those underlying considerations people might have for their romantic and/or life partner.”
In the event of harassment from a match, users are encouraged to email the Aphrodite Project team for assistance. Low recognizes that this has happened before, saying, “The first thing we do is reach out to the person affected by the harassment to talk to them and work out a plan they are comfortable with. We don’t do anything without their consent. We don’t reach out to the other person and try and step in, because that might not take into account the full context of their situation.” Instead, they would propose for the team to reach out to the offending user or help contact law enforcement. If the incident escalates to sexual assault, Low explains that the best advice will be to involve more support mechanisms. “I think it’s a really difficult situation that we try to tackle with empathy,” Low expresses.
The Aphrodite Project’s website advertises a rate of two in five connections made, and Low points out, “We celebrated a couple’s marriage recently in Toronto who matched from the U of T Aphrodite Project.” Data on their Instagram from the 2021 run states that two per cent of matches were dating when they responded to the Aphrodite Project’s feedback survey.
No matter how many people find their soulmate through the Aphrodite Project, Low hopes that “Everyone out there can see that we are genuinely, just really trying to connect people and celebrate people’s happy moments together.”