With its staggering 75 million active users each month, Tinder is by far the most popular dating app worldwide. However, a recent study conducted by researchers from Stanford Medicine came to an unexpected conclusion: many users are not on the app to find dates.
In fact, half of the surveyed Tinder users expressed no interest in meeting offline. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds were either married or already in a committed relationship.
If that's the case why are people are Tinder in the first place? Motivations differ but most seem to use it for entertainment, distraction, and as a self-esteem boost.
Fulfillment beyond dating
This study explores the psychological motivations behind app usage and their profound influence on user satisfaction and the outcomes of their interactions.
"I was quite struck by how little data there was when it comes to how satisfied people were with online dating in general and with the offline dates that it can result in," shared Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and one of the authors of the study.
To bridge this gap, the researchers collaborated with colleagues from France and Switzerland, surveying 1,387 English-speaking Tinder users between the ages of 17 and 84.
The survey encompassed multiple aspects, including users' motivations for utilizing the app, the number of matches and offline dates they had, their relationship status, partner selectiveness, and various psychological measures such as impulsivity, depression, loneliness, and self-esteem. All data were collected through an online questionnaire.
Online dating as a doping mechanism: it doesn't work
While dating apps have traditionally been associated with finding romantic partners or casual encounters, these incentives seem to have taken a back seat. Many users reported using the app for social connectedness, entertainment, distraction, and emotional regulation. In essence, dating apps now seem to work like other social media platforms.
"We call them dating apps, but they're clearly serving other functions besides dating," notes Aboujaoude.
But Tinder was never meant to be a social network like Facebook or Instagram -- and this comes with its own problems.
On average, study participants rated their overall satisfaction with Tinder at 2.39 on a 4-point scale, with offline dates receiving an average rating of 3.05 on a 5-point scale. To identify the strongest predictors of satisfaction with the app, the researchers employed a machine learning model.
They discovered that using the app for its intended purpose of finding romantic or social partners, as well as having a greater number of matches, positively influenced satisfaction. On the other hand, using Tinder as a coping mechanism for negative emotions, having an avoidant attachment style, and having psychological qualities such as impulsivity and depressive mood negatively impacted satisfaction levels.
So while a lot of people seem to use Tinder for purposes that were never intended, they do so at a cost. These findings show that online dating may not be an effective coping mechanism for individuals facing mental health challenges.
Drawing parallels to problematic internet use, which can exacerbate depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, Aboujaoude emphasizes the importance of addressing the underlying issues.
"You need to work on the unhealthy coping mechanism, but you also need to address what it is that you're trying to cope with," he advised.
"If it turns out there's an actual mental health condition, be it depression, ADHD, anxiety or something else, we don't want that to go undiagnosed. There are established treatments that can be very effective for those conditions."
Interestingly, the study found that age strongly predicted higher satisfaction with offline dates facilitated by Tinder. Older users, who did not grow up with dating apps, approached them with skepticism and tended to be more selective in their matches.
"I think the average user could probably learn from this finding and be happier with their online dating experience," Aboujaoude said.
Dating apps, once seen as a pathway to love, have now evolved into a digital platform that offers companionship, amusement, and self-validation. Perhaps this is indicative of the current digital landscape and users' dissatisfaction with them. If people go on Tinder just to be social, perhaps the leading social networks are lacking. Or perhaps Tinder just sucks for dating. Or just both.
The findings appeared in the journal Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking.