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What Is The Link Between Tinder And Mental Health?

Tinder exposes users to considerable rejection. As a consequence, some users may begin to question their physical appearance, their online conversational skills, and the general integrity of the opposite sex. Some may doubt themselves and their value to others, leading to undue self-monitoring for perceived flaws and defects.
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Young couple with smartphones in their bed
Young couple with smartphones in their bed

Tinder is an app that has recently set the dating world alight. The basis of tinder is simple. Users can upload up to six photos, along with a 500 character description. This is known as a profile, which becomes visible to other Tinder users in the vicinity. Users can then like ('swipe right') or dislike ('swipe left') other profiles.

If two users like each other, it is a "match," and they can then interact via text messaging on the app. Launched in 2012, Tinder now has over 50 million active users. Tinder reports that the average user spends around 90 minutes per day on the app, logging on around 11 times.

Potential Benefits

In contrast to other dating apps, Tinder gives little space for users to list hobbies, interests or desirable characteristics in a partner. As such, the uploaded photos generally determine the decision to swipe left or right.

This has led psychologist Dr Jessica Strubel to somewhat disapprovingly state that Tinder has "a hyper focus on physical appearance and casual hookups." Indeed a Dutch study indicated that finding casual sex was one of the top two reasons for Tinder usage.

Is this a good or a bad thing? To each their own, some may respond.

Indeed, some people may find casual hookups rewarding. Women in particular have fought tirelessly for autonomy and choice in the sexual market place. Tinder facilitates increased sexual freedom. It is a space where users can negotiate relationships based on their own preferences, rather than suffocating social norms.

However not everyone on Tinder is looking for casual sex. Tinder's own website says that "it is a powerful tool to meet people, expand your social group and meet locals when travelling." This is indubitably true. Such potential benefits should not be overlooked.

But is there a shadow side to Tinder use? Can it negatively affect mental health? Some research suggests this could be the case.

The Cost of Rejection

Tinder exposes users to considerable rejection. One study found a very low rate of matching (especially for men). It also found that only around 50 per cent of matches actually message back. Messages received are often crude or combative. As such, Tinder users are being 'disliked' constantly, and their matches often fail to reply, or respond in an unsavoury fashion.

As a consequence, some users may begin to question their physical appearance, their online conversational skills, and the general integrity of the opposite sex. Some may doubt themselves and their value to others, leading to undue self-monitoring for perceived flaws and defects.

Indeed, researchers at the University of North Texas compared Tinder users to non-users. Tinder users reported lower self-esteem, less body image satisfaction and lower psychosocial well-being. This may be related to constant rejection and frustration experienced on the App.

Choice in a Throwaway Society

Some academics have argued that overwhelming levels of choice have led to a "throwaway society." Do dating apps such as Tinder contribute towards a culture of human disposability? If so, does it create individual mental stress, as well as hostility and cynicism between the sexes?

Matches and potential matches can be disliked, ignored or deleted on a whim. Many users report the experience of being 'ghosted' after a few Tinder dates, sometimes multiple times. Some may find this whole experience dehumanizing and damaging.

Indeed, the overwhelming choice offered by apps such as Tinder may impede the development of a monogamous romantic relationship, which research suggests is a top reason for Tinder use.

All Tinder users know that another round of swiping (and more matches) is only a fingertip away; both for themselves as well as any incipient romantic interest. This can create intense anxiety, reducing mutual trust and respect. Is she still meeting other guys on Tinder? Will he ghost me for his other matches? Is there someone better on the next swipe?

Endless questions, endless questing, endless disquiet.

Expectations and Exploitation

Tinder can lead to a merry-go-round of partners, resulting in a cycle of dissatisfying brief relationships. This is especially so given that matches can be easily exploited for nefarious ends.

For example, one user may simply desire casual sex, but cloak their intentions in order to achieve their goal with more ease. Another user may be looking for a temporary meal-ticket, with no intention of taking the relationship further. This can leave users feeling exploited and used; the living detritus of a throwaway society.

Such dissolute behaviour would be more difficult if men and women met at work or through mutual friends, where their relationship was rooted in a pre-existing social ecology. No such social ecology exists within Tinder, where malefactors do not have to face social opprobrium from their peers. Indeed, they can repeat such profligate behaviour on Tinder as infinitum.

The Future

On the one hand, Tinder offers choice and autonomy in the dating world; it allows individuals to meet, experiment, remain or move-on depending on desires and preferences. On the other hand, the constant rejection, overwhelming choice and endless cycle of transient relationships may contribute to a lower sense of psychological well-being.

All this in turn may alter the underlying psychosocial landscape; influencing the overall quality of human connections, gender relations and individual mental health. Like alcohol, Tinder may be fun, harmless and pleasant in small doses, but pathological when taken to an extreme.

Be warned.

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