Tinder is a dating app used by 50 million people. Although the number of users keeps increasing, there is a general dissatisfaction in particular among women, who perceive that men predominantly use the app to look for casual sex. In this article we analyze Tinder’s technological features and identify them as the reason why serious, long-lasting relationships are rarely established via this App.

Once installed on your phone, Tinder allows you to see the profile of other users in your geographical area, and of your gender of interest. The profile allows you to upload a set of personal pictures and, optionally, a short description (1 or 2 sentences). At this point, you decide to like or dislike other users. This process takes on average about 4 seconds (1), after which users “swipe” to look at another, randomly (not really, there’s an algorithm behind it) selected profile.

To be precise, according to a recent study women spent 3.2 seconds on profiles they found attractive, and 6.9 seconds on profiles they eventually disliked. Men, instead, spent approximately 6 seconds per profile, regardless of whether they found the potential partner attractive or not (1). Dozens of profiles can be liked or disliked within a very short amount of time. If two users like each other, this is considered a “match”, and the App allows them to start a chat, to get to know each other better, and eventually to schedule a date.

Tinder can be used to find new friends, to look for a romantic partner, either for a long-term relationship or a one-night stand. However, there is a general discontent among female users, as men’s intentions appear to be skewed towards casual sex, rather than a potentially life-long relationship. This perception is supported by the evidence that about 50% of men use Tinder for one-night stands, whereas only about 15% of women use the App for the same purpose (2).

That said, the number of female users keeps increasing as much as their dissatisfaction, and far more than those who stop using the App. Although it may seem paradoxical, dissatisfaction may actually be the driving force that pushes women looking for lasting relationships to keep using the App. When continuously faced with negative experiences, female users may try to exploit the full potential of Tinder to search for the man of their dream: there must be a good looking and nice guy, wanting me for more than a night. And even when there is one, that one may be outclassed by another man, waiting for you to “swipe” a few more times.

As Xavier Greenwood nicely pointed out, Tinder was created as a “game”, and its users may easily suffer from addiction, exactly as if they would by playing a slot machine, over and over again. It does not come as a surprise though: this model not only allows Tinder users to become hooked on the App, but at the same time, the company keeps expanding its market, as users tend to remain ‘single’ for long periods.

As mentioned, users can select their potential partners based on their looks. This feature, which made Tinder so successful, is certainly also the cause of its predominant use as a dating app for casual sex.

Also in nature (i.e. offline), humans obviously pre-select their partners based on their looks. Though, within the first interactions between two people, looks are not the only factor that enters the game. The very first interaction, whether from a distance or close by, already involves body language (3), a chemical language (possibly based on the release of pheromones – this is a debated topic), and also the character of a person (4)can play a decisive role.

Tinder suppresses everything else but physical attraction. In nature, all those additional layers of communication are used to understand whether a potential partner is interested or not. Successful courtship is based on multiple factors, and it is a complex behavior that – although it presents itself differently – is conserved through evolution. For instance, female fruit flies accept males only after a prolonged courtship display, which consists of a flying dance made with vibrating wings around the females in a sort of display of their abilities (5).

When the basic principles of courtship are lost, there are inevitable consequences for the social and psychological dynamics of affected individuals. In the case of Tinder, the high number of rejections and the phenomenon of  “ghosting”, i.e. when somebody stops answering messages and technically disappears, contribute to lower users’ self-esteem, in particular for men.

We previously discussed that women are the most disappointed when it comes to the discrepancy between their expectations and reality while using the App. However, is a man’s strategy oriented towards short, sex-centered relationships a natural behavior?

Humans, as mammals, are in constant sexual competition with each other, even between the two genders – women’s reproductive resources to generate offspring are far more limiting than those of men (6). In other words, in mammals – and we are no exception – males can disperse their semen at low cost, whereas females invest a lot of resources during pregnancy, and therefore must be more selective about their partner, both from a genetic and a behavioral perspective.

To answer our question: for males, showing traits associated with honesty and life-long dedication to family can most likely increase the chances of winning the competition against other males and the approval of their female counterparts.
But why wouldn’t men seek a long-lasting relationship after meeting a partner through Tinder?

For a woman to use Tinder is already a sign of sexual availability, which is information that is normally not given to men in a real life, natural context. This limits a woman’s capability to use body language to refuse or seemingly refuse a potential partner, with the intention of increasing a man’s interest in her. Going back to our previous example, during a fruit fly’s courtship, males get behavioral feedback from females. Males consequently decide on whether to prolong their effort or not. Although human’s courtship works differently, the interactive dynamics are obviously similar, as we mentioned earlier. By using Tinder in the first place, a woman is therefore already giving a positive feedback of her sexual availability, especially when swiping right.

Furthermore, most men are naturally aware of having a high chance of rejection, based on the existence of the aforementioned female-based sexual selection due to limited resources they can allocate to pregnancy and childcare. Though, the established existence of anthropogenic contraceptives (e.g. condoms and hormonal pills) is an additional step that increases the possibility for casual sex without pregnancy: women have fewer reasons – except for their natural instincts and preferences – to reject a sexual partner.

All these factors have a clear consequence for a man’s behavior: even when they seek a stable, long-lasting relationship, they are hardly interested in finding it on Tinder. The fact that Tinder allows user to pre-select potential partners based on their looks (and looks alone) and the indirect knowledge that a woman is already in search of a partner, push men to shift their strategy, looking for a one-night stand instead of a lasting relationship.
Instead, meeting the same man in a different context may yield the exact opposite result.

In a world that seeks to move towards a non-gendered, fluid society based on the individuals’ emotional and sexual freedom, Tinder is establishing, with the help of modern technology, an object-based, algorithmic and digitalized dating society, in which people become mere images and sexual stereotypes (for another example of technology-based objectification, read this article entitled “Robot sex brothels: good or bad?”).

In order to find the love of their lives, women and men should be seeking to use more traditional means: patience, in particular for women – the right man will approach you, sooner or later – and courtship – you learn more about your potential partner, and with little bias.

Federico Germani

References:

  1. Levy, J. et al., “Polar similar: using massive mobile dating data to predict synchronization and similarity in dating”, Front. Psychol., 2019.
  2. Tyson, G. et al., “A first look at user activity on Tinder”, ASONAM16, 2016.
  3. Hugill, N. et al., “The role of human body movements in mate selection”, Evolutionary psychology, 2010.
  4. Oesch, N., “The dating mind: evolutionary psychology and the emerging science of human courtship”, Evolutionary psychology, 2012.
  5. Dukas, R. and Scott, A., “Fruit fly courtship: the female perspective”, Current Zoology, 2015.
  6. Trivers, R., “Parental investment and sexual selection”, chapter in book “Sexual selection and the descent of man”, Aldine, ChicagoEditors, 1972.

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Posted by Federico Germani

Federico is a passionate and enthusiastic geneticist and molecular biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He is the founder and director of Culturico. He brings awareness to the broad public of how the scientific publishing system works. He believes in multidisciplinary approaches, as they oppose to narrow minded – limited – ways to look at reality. This is why he reads and writes about topics ranging from science to International Relations, from society to philosophy. @fedgermani


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