According to a new study, a person’s Facebook network can be used to guess who one’s romantic partner or spouse is. And if the guess is wrong, it is an indicator that the relationship is in trouble.

From the New York Times article:

Their dispersion algorithm was able to correctly identify a user’s spouse 60 percent of the time, or better than a 1-in-2 chance. Since everyone in the sample had at least 50 friends, merely guessing would have at best produced a 1 in 50 chance. The algorithm also did pretty well with people who declare themselves to be “in a relationship,” correctly identifying them a third of the time — a 1 in 3 chance compared with the 1 in 50 for guesswork.

Particularly intriguing is that when the algorithm fails, it looks as if the relationship is in trouble. A couple in a declared relationship and without a high dispersion on the site are 50 percent more likely to break up over the next two months than a couple with a high dispersion, the researchers found.

It’s not simply the number of mutual friends that two people have. That’s actually a poor indicator of romantic relationships. The study says that it’s more how those mutual friends connect, what the researchers call dispersion.

This yardstick measures mutual friends, but also friends from the further-flung reaches of a person’s network neighborhood. High dispersion occurs when a couple’s mutual friends are not well connected to one another.

So the partner is a bridge that connects social worlds.

The study was conducted by a computer scientist at Cornell University and a senior engineer at Facebook. The research will help Facebook better tailor its content to users.

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I have neither a Facebook account nor a romantic partner so looking at this objectively it’s rather fascinating.

Read the NYT article here

Read the study here (pdf)