The team of MIT cognitive neuroscientists launched a Web site last December called EasyMixing.com to test whether a person's facial features may offer a deeper insight into his or her personality and behavior. The site asks visitors to rate pictures of members, asking, for example, whether the person would use free time to read a book or to play video games. The researchers group the responses to see whether people make common conclusions about certain types of faces.
The twist is these researchers hope the results will help them piggyback one of the hottest Web trends: online personals.
The idea is to create an intelligent database based on the ratings results that can serve potential dates according to someone's personality settings. In other words, these MIT researchers are trying to create the ultimate computerized matchmaker.
"Instead of having to wade through several hundred images, you get short list of top 20 or 50 people who have more compatible profiles to you," said Pawan Sinha, an assistant professor of computational and neuroscience at MIT who is advising the project.
While grouping physical appearance with personality traits may conjure up images of social psychology experiments during the early half of the 20th century, the team insists that their conclusions should be taken at face value.
"We're not claiming these personality judgments are correct; it's just that they're reliable, that everyone has the same first impression," said Yuri Ostrovsky a graduate student who is part of the team.
The creation of EasyMixing comes at an opportunistic time. Online dating has become a rapidly growing business for companies such as USA Interactive's Match.com and Yahoo Personals. Both companies charge fees for their sites and have touted their services as blossoming businesses in their respective portfolios.
In a report earlier this month by the Online Publishers Association, Americans spentin 2002, with Yahoo and Match.com ranked as the first and second largest recipients, respectively. In December, USA Interactive reported Match.com generated $37.1 million in revenue for the quarter and witnessed a 90 percent rise in its subscribers. Yahoo does not break out results for its personals business.
EasyMixing.com, which is in a rudimentary stage, has a long way to go. The site launched in December, and it now counts a mere 400 members scattered throughout the United States and France.
Sinha maintains that EasyMixing continues to serve more for scientific testing than commercial use and that the main goal of the project is to publish a paper on its findings. However, the business potential remains high on his list.
"We are serious in developing this as a business opportunity if the concept is attractive to people," Sinha said. "At MIT you have to be interested in entrepreneurship."