For better or for worse, geolocated smartphone dating apps have irrevocably altered the dating experience. Hold onto a more traditional idea of dating if you want, but swiping left and right has busted the cliché of the meet-cute. Tinder hasn’t totally replaced eye contact, but it feels like it’s getting close. And though that change isn’t problematic in and of itself, it doesn’t create a new kind of romantic issue: Tinder addiction.
Enter the experts.
Gábor Orosz, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has worked with his colleagues to formulate a scale of Tinder use in order to make instances of problematic engagement quantifiable. “We wanted to see how people are motivated to use Tinder in general, but we became more interested in the darker side of this issue: whether it has a negative impact on the given individual,” Orosz explained to Inverse, adding that problematic Tinder use often arises from a desire to boost one’s self-esteem.
The investigation pertaining to problematic Tinder use was actually one of the last steps of the overall study. Before that, Orosz and his team surveyed students to discern basic motivations of Tinder use, which led them to identify that people use Tinder for four major reasons: to have sex, to find love, out of boredom, and lastly and most interestingly, to boost their self-esteem. Relying on Dr. Mark Griffith’s widely accepted six-component behavioral addiction model to determine what is “problematic,” the team honed in on the fourth motivation — seeking validation — as the source of troubling behaviors.
Orosz and his team identified that those who met four of the six criteria of Griffith’s model — salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse — exhibited some form of problematic Tinder use. Specifically, Orosz says that anyone who thinks about Tinder a lot, tries and fails to use it less, or tries to use it to adjust their mood should be concerned about their situation.
“But as a matter of fact,” he adds, “we couldn’t identify a lot of people who suffer from problematic Tinder use, and we found that those who have issues are probably just experiencing something momentary.”
A surprisingly refreshing result to discover, indeed. But don’t get too comfortable.
The study found that people in committed, long-term relationships were using Tinder to make sure they were still valuable in the dating market. And that sort of search for reassurance from digitized strangers is, Orosz found, considerably more problematic than the simple search for sex. The problem, he makes clear, is when Tinder becomes a mirror rather than an app.
“When you notice that you use this online dating application in order to improve your mood, that’s perhaps an indicator that you’re not paying enough attention to the other person,” Orosz says, adding that he hopes to remind people to focus more attention on real relationships. “Sometimes we forget that dating is not an individual activity but a social one.”
The study also found that using Tinder to feel better about yourself contributes to an incapacity to handle rejection, which Tinder protects its users from by obscuring the reasons for missed connections. In this way, Tinder creates a partially false self-esteem boost because users only experience positive results. It’s a great product, but a faulty model of real world dating.
Orosz and his team may have concentrated on the problematic aspects of Tinder use, but that doesn’t mean they discourage people from using it. Above all else, they’re determined to track how new online platforms like Tinder have a fundamental impact on the way relationships evolve. As online dating apps continue to soar in popularity, it’s likely that many more studies on this topic will emerge. If we can learn anything from this one, though, it’s that perhaps we shouldn’t obsessively rely on Tinder for validation. Perhaps it’s time to swipe right on rejection.