'Paradox of Choice' Theory Exposes Tinder's Fundamental Flaw

After five years, Tinder still hasn't figured it out.

Wikimedia/ Avoini

In a way, dating and shopping are basically the same exercise. In both activities, researchers have found that having too many available options makes people feel less satisfied with the choices you make. This problem has defined popular dating apps from the get-go, and as it hits its fifth-year mark on Tuesday, Tinder still hasn’t resolved this issue.

This phenomenon, called the paradox of choice, occurs because Tinder presents an infinite amount of choices to Homo sapiens, a species that psychologists have discovered are incapable of dealing with that many choices. Tinder, for all its upsides, is fundamentally flawed.

The first major study to explore the “Paradox of Choice” phenomenon, published in 2000 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has become something of a marketing industry legend. In that study, researchers used jam and chocolate samples to test how having more options affected a person’s decision-making. They presented shoppers with either a large array of jam or chocolate samples (24 to 30) or a small one (six). Then, they measured how many people actually bought anything. They repeated the experiment using a classroom scenario in which participants had to pick an extra-credit essay topic from a large or small list.

The reason you have trouble choosing jam at the grocery store is the same reason you have trouble choosing a partner on Tinder. 

Flickr / erix!

They found that giving people more choices made it less likely that they’d make any choice at all, concluding that people are much more likely to make a selection and be happy with their choice when there are fewer available options. The study established the paradox of choice — that having choices can be demotivating — as an experimentally-verified phenomenon and not just a pop psychology buzzword.

Since this foundational study, many others have confirmed that an over-abundance of choices can rob us of satisfaction. These studies don’t just cover grocery store choices, but also search engine results, pension plans, maternity care, school curriculums, and investment decisions.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see how the paradox of choice can apply to Tinder. Sure, the app helps you find a compatible partner, but the fact that you found one person implies that you could find one more. Or a hundred more. You might have matched with someone great, but there are so many more potential matches out there! Why would you ever stop swiping?

With so many fish in the sea, your thumb could probably use a break.

Flawed as the Tinder experience may be, though, some people may be less susceptible to the paradox of choice.

In 2002, psychologist Ben Schwartz and his colleagues published a paper in which they delineated two types of people that make choices differently: “maximizers” who carefully examine all options, and “satsificers” who make decisions quickly. In a series of studies, they found maximizers were less satisfied with their choices, suggesting that people who are satisficers may actually be well-suited to Tinder, since they don’t agonize over all their options. The study led Schwartz and his colleagues to publish the “Maximizing Scale,” which includes statements such as “I treat relationships like clothing: I expect to try a lot on before finding the perfect fit.”

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