The Love Scientist

Emily Hittner draws on her SESP doctoral research on relationships and emotions to design an app you want to delete.

As an emotions researcher, Emily Hittner (PhD19) used to joke about working for a dating app. But the longer she thought about it, the more that it seemed like a goal worth pursuing.

Now vice president of research at Hinge, the dating app “designed to be deleted,” Hittner leads a user experience team that researches how to help people connect more meaningfully. It’s a perfect fit, she says, because she uses her skills in affective, health, and relation- ship science to study everything from the users who’ve found love to features that help daters better express themselves.

While earning her doctorate in human development and social policy and her master’s in statistics, Hittner worked in the labs of professors Emma Adam and Claudia Haase. Now living in New York City, she talked with us about how she landed at Hinge and what she loves about her job.

The problem

Hittner was happily building a research career because she loves investigating problems, solving difficult challenges, and helping others understand what she learns. She had thought she’d become a professor because, during grad school, she had few models for careers outside academia. Working for a think tank was one option, but she didn’t see it as a good fit. Her statistics degree led her to con- sider data science, but she knew she’d miss her passion for survey design and interacting with people.

The influencer

The first time she heard of user experience research was when her friend Ryan Svoboda (PhD19) surprised her by applying for an intern- ship at Facebook. “I was like, ‘Ryan, what are you doing?’” she says. Svoboda ended up getting the internship and worked as a research man- ager at Meta; for Hittner, it was an influential moment. “He was a good friend with a similar back- ground, similar interests, and it was in line with what we already did,” she says. “It was helpful to see a friend model a career path that I didn’t know about but already seemed familiar—it felt very encouraging.”

The constraints

Hittner wanted to keep researching relationships and emotions because of the effect they have on people’s lives—and because the research was always interesting, changing, and relevant. “I really loved the teaching and mentoring part of research” she says. “I wanted to find a role where I could build stronger and more meaningful relationships.”

The idea

When Hittner read more about Hinge’s focus on helping people go on great dates, she knew she wanted to work there. “Hinge’s tagline, ‘Designed to be deleted,’ Reflected a place where I felt research would have impact,” she says. “How do we use insights to make Hinge work so well that people delete it? It is a problem I wanted to invest my time to solve.”

The research

Hittner and her team study the relationship journeys of Hinge daters, from down- load to date to deletion, so they can fine-tune the elements that make a difference. She routinely draws on past research she conducted in the SESP labs of Adam and Haase. “The foundations from affective and relationship science directly apply to how we are thinking about the problems that daters are facing today,” she says.

The love

Hittner cites Hinge’s values of authenticity, courage, and empathy as helping sustain a culture that makes her proud to come to work each day. “I get to work in a space that is helping spread love, building rela- tionships across the globe, and working with a community of passionate, bold, and caring people,” she says. “What more can you ask for?”