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Biological Anthropologist: Match.com Akin to "Ancestral Mating Dance"

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Match.com parent IAC Interactive was downgraded to Neutral from Buy this morning by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, mainly, as MV's Justin Sharon notes, "on valuation with its shares already up 33% year-to-date."

“We continue to expect strong Q2 results for Match.com and believe IAC could realize unexpected margin benefits in the search business (organic results outsourcing) and Match.com (sector consolidation)," analyst Justin Post wrote in a research note. "Longer-term, we still have concerns on sustainability of the search toolbar business in a mobile driven world and do not anticipate multiple expansion for the segment.”

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and research professor at Rutgers University's Center for Human Evolution Studies may not have anything to say about search toolbars and the sustainability of the business in a "mobile driven world," but she seems quite certain that Match.com is -- and will remain -- the dominant player in the world of online dating.

Fisher may have a slight bias, being that she was hired by Match.com in 2005 to develop an offshoot service intended as a direct competitor to the success of eHarmony's "scientific matching" method.

The new site was called Chemistry.com, complete with a personality test and algorithms designed by Fisher that purport to find suitable matches for online daters more accurately than any other.

It also doesn't hurt that online dating is, according to Fisher, a modern version of the most primitive partner selection methods.

"Walking into a bar is totally artificial," Fisher tells Nick Paumgarten in this week's New Yorker. "We've come to believe that this is the way to court. But that couldn't be further from the truth. What's natural is knowing a few fundamental things about someone before you meet.

Paumgarten points out that "vetting has always occurred at many levels, ranging from the genealogical to the pheromonal."

"In her view," he writes, "dating via the Internet enables, as she wrote, "the modern human brain to pursue more comfortably its ancestral mating dance."

An article on the Chemistry.com website called "Dating & Mating Rituals…Decoded," follows Fisher as she tracks daters "in the wild" a la David Attenborough and delivers a running commentary to author Jody Dutton.

“Even in this modern age, humans adhere to courtship strategies that are as old as the hills, and used throughout the animal kingdom,” Fisher says as they head to the grassy plains and teeming savannas of Starbucks.

"To me, the woman in the green shirt is sipping a cappuccino and catching up with friends," Dutton writes. "But in Helen Fisher’s eyes, something much more primordial is happening: The woman in green is on the hunt, and has already staked out her quarry -- a tall man in a blue-checkered button-down sitting next to her."

Dutton continues:

“See how her body’s twisted toward him in the ‘crouch’ position, with her hands near her face when she laughs?” Fisher whispers to me as she sips her chai latte. “It’s the ‘broken wing’ tactic. She’s sending a subtle signal his way that says, ‘protect me.’ Men love that.”

Indeed, Fisher says that secret signals of sexual attraction are at work whenever people mingle. The way you sit down with your cappuccino or Corona begins the courtship dance. “The first thing all animals do when attempting to find a mate is to set up their territory,” says Fisher. People who place laptops on their table or their coat and bags on a chair next to them, she explains, are attempting to carve out a perimeter so they can proceed to the next stage of courtship: attracting attention.

“Notice how that guy’s stirring his drink with his entire arm?” Fisher points out. “He’d never bother to do that at home.” The man then casually stretches his arms back in a gesture Fisher calls the ‘chest thrust,’ to appear as large and formidable as possible. “Pretty much all courtship postures fall into two categories: attempts to look big and attempts to look little,” she explains. Traditionally, men generally try to look big, or ‘loom,’ while women try to look small, or ‘crouch.’ The direction someone’s feet are pointing can also convey interest: Smitten women turn pigeon-toed; men pivot outward. “Feet can be a real giveaway,” says Helen. “People are quite conscious of their body and hands, but forget to control their feet.”

It seems only natural that, given the extensive psychological studies that have been devoted to love over the years, interest would eventually develop among physical scientists.

Enter Lee Silver, a molecular biologist at Princeton who is studying 100,000 test responses from Chemistry.com "in the hope," the New Yorker's Paumgarten writes, "of one day synching up such data with buccal-swab results."

Of Silver's work, Fisher says: "We're all combinations, but we also all have distinct personalities, and we know that, damn it. This is not dreaming. Up until recently, we've been looking only at the cultural basis of who we are."

Yet, enthusiastic as she is about such an approach, Fisher is not concerned about medical science encroaching too much on her turf, at least in this lifetime.

"She does not foresee, anytime soon," Paumgarten writes, "the development or commercial sale of, as she put it, 'a vaccine against falling for a--holes.'"

Hurry.

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