Dating apps are accused of being ‘addictive’. What makes us keep swiping?

A class-action lawsuit filed in the United States against Match Group – the parent company of dating apps Tinder, Hinge and The League – is making headlines around the world.

The claimants accuse Match of having a “predatory” business model and using “recognized dopamine-manipulating product features” to get people addicted to their apps.

So, can dating apps really be addictive? Are we swiping right into a trap? Here’s the science behind how dating apps are influencing our brains.

How do apps give us a dopamine hit?

Dating apps, like many apps these days, are designed to keep users engaged. Like any product on the market, one of the developers’ goals is for the app to be sold and used.

While dating apps are designed to facilitate connections, some people may find themselves developing an unhealthy relationship with the app, constantly swiping left and right.

Dating apps can feel addictive because they activate the dopamine reward system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger in the brain, one of many such chemicals essential for our survival.

One of dopamine’s crucial roles is to influence when and how we experience pleasure and reward. Think about the rush of winning money at a casino, or getting lots of likes on Instagram. That’s dopamine working its magic.

However, dopamine does more that just help us feel pleasure and excitement. It also has a key role in motivating us to seek out pleasurable things. It’s released not only when we experience something pleasurable, but also when we’re anticipating and seeking out a pleasurable experience.

Excitement and unpredictability

Certain app features make it more likely we will open our phones and start swiping. When you get a match on a dating app, it feels exciting – that’s dopamine at work.

But an element of unpredictability adds to this excitement. Each time you open the app, you don’t know what profiles you might see, and who might match with you. This element of surprise and anticipation is especially important in getting us hooked.

Imagine if instead of swiping through profiles one by one, you were shown a long list of them at once. It would still feel good to match with people, but that excitement and anticipation of swiping through one by one would be missing.

Additionally, intermittent reinforcement comes into the mix. This is where “rewards” – in this case, matches – are provided at irregular intervals. We know we might eventually get some matches, but we don’t know when or with whom.

Imagine if instead of being drip-fed your matches, you received a list of any matches from the past 24 hours, at 9am each day. Your excitement and desire to check the app throughout the day would likely lessen.

Other small features, such as “hearts” and “roses”, make dating apps socially rewarding. These are all forms of approval. It feels different to receive a heart or a rose compared to something unemotional like a “tick” or “thumbs up”. These social stimuli are rewarding and activate our dopamine, too.

6 addictive signs to watch out for

Not every dating app user will develop an unhealthy relationship to it. Just like not everyone who gambles, plays mobile games, or drinks alcohol develops a problem with those.

However, some people are biologically more vulnerable to addictions than others. A review of the research into problematic dating app use found the people likely to spend more time on the apps are those high on personality traits such as neuroticism, sociability and sensation-seeking. Problematic use of online dating apps is also associated with low self-esteem.

While there’s no current diagnosis of a “dating app addiction”, some people do develop unhealthy app habits and experience day-to-day harms as a result.

These sixaddiction components” outline some of the signs you might be developing an unhealthy relationship with dating apps:

    1. salience (dating app use dominates your thoughts)
    2. mood modification (dating apps change your mood)
    3. tolerance (your use of dating apps increases over time)
    4. withdrawals (distress when dating app use is interrupted for a period of time)
    5. conflict (use of dating apps negatively affects your reality)
    6. relapse (you return to a previous pattern of dating app use after some interruption)

Oh no, I think I’m hooked on an app!

So, what can you do if you find yourself swiping through those matches more than you’d prefer?

Consider taking a break from the apps for a period of time. Depending on how hooked you feel, stopping completely for a while will help you reset your reliance on them.

Consider what is driving you to spend time swiping: are you feeling bored, sad or lonely? What other ways can you find to soothe these emotional experiences instead of turning to the app?

Make a list of the practical or emotional consequences of swiping, as a reminder of why you want to reduce your use. Perhaps the apps give you a brief rush, but in the long run don’t align with how you want to be spending your time, or don’t make you feel particularly good about yourself.

If you really do feel hooked, it will feel uncomfortable to take a break. Strategies such as mindfulness can help us sit with the discomfort. Consider seeking out professional help from a psychologist if you’re struggling to take time from dating apps.

Lastly, remember that apps, while great for meeting people, are not the be-all and end-all of dating.

In-person events and opportunities to mingle still exist. So, step away from the screen and embrace the excitement, unpredictability and dopamine hit you can get from face-to-face encounters too. The Conversation

Anastasia Hronis, University of Technology Sydney

Anastasia Hronis, Clinical Psychologist; Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Every product is selected by editors. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Related Posts

It’s Cancer Season

Cancer Season To understand the gifts of Cancer Season, reflect for a moment on a perfect summer day. The warmth has us coming out our shells a bit...

Read out all

Do You Think You Need To Know How The Person You’re In A Relationship With Spends Money?

How much do you need to know about how your spouse spends money? Maybe less than you think. Love is in the...

Read out all

Can Artificial Intelligence Improve Your Dating Life

Five ways artificial intelligence can improve your dating life. Artificial intelligence is going to transform how we date. The question is: will...

Read out all

Who Is Most Affected By Friend Breakups?

Friend breakups: why they can sometimes feel as bad as falling out of love. If you’ve ever gone through a friendship breakup...

Read out all

Exploring The Benefits Of Harmony: Creating Bonds That Suit People, Not Society

Relationship anarchy is about creating bonds that suit people, not social conventions. By its very nature, friendship is anarchic: it has few...

Read out all

Friends With Benefits Relationships — Why They Don’t Always Work Out

Why Friends With Benefits Relationships Don’t Always Work Out. When it comes to relationships, friends with benefits can seem like an attractive...

Read out all