Online dating leads to poorer relationships

New study: does the well-known dating app Tinder lead to relationship success?

Scientists examined personality traits of the users and whether they were in a romantic relationship a year later

It is well known that the rate of singles and childless people has been rising for years in many Western and Asian countries. The dynamic, globalized cities in particular are often single capitals. On the surface, this casts doubt on the success of online dating. After all, it has been around for over 20 years. So isn't it that easy to find your dream partner by clicking, swiping and chatting?

In addition, for companies that earn their money with online dating, finding a partner is more lucrative than finding a relationship. From a market economy perspective, platform operators benefit most when they can retain their users over the long term. To do this, of course, success has to be within reach, especially when users pay for the service. So if the industry grows, but at the same time the number of singles grows, then the image of the donkey that chases the carrot on a stick forever without ever getting it seems appropriate.

Alternatively, it could of course also be the case that many users are not looking for steady relationships at all, but rather are looking for fleeting contacts, keyword “casual dating”. Why commit yourself long-term when a much better partner could be waiting just a few clicks away? Relationships in which both partners (knowingly) continue to search for a better match naturally fit into the world of self-optimizers. Because in this the status quo is never good enough (the price for the “perfect life”).

The psychological power of the dream of the perfect match should not be underestimated. The social history of the data, which was only created around 1900 and had something to do with the rural exodus, shows how strongly the economic framework conditions shape our social network. Harvard historian Moira Weigel recently wrote an interesting non-fiction book about this (“Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating”, 2016), albeit with a strong focus on the USA.

New study from Norway

Now Norwegian researchers working with Eilin Erevik from the University of Bergen have taken a closer look at the personality and dating behavior of over 5000 people (Tinder Use and Romantic Relationship Formations: A Large-Scale Longitudinal Study). For their study, which appeared on August 14, they examined, among other things, the personality traits known as the “Big Five” from psychology: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, tolerance and neuroticism. Data on mental health and substance use were also collected.

As is so often the case in such studies, for pragmatic reasons mainly students were examined because they are the easiest to access. The Norwegian scientists also sent invitations by email to a total of 28,553 students from various universities in Bergen. The results are therefore not representative of the general population. For years the selection of “WEIRD People” subjects has been criticized: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. Nonetheless, research in the social sciences, but also in the life sciences, continues to be carried out with and with students from Western countries, because this is the easiest way to get data.

Of the almost 30,000 people who were contacted, 5,253 answered 2,404 different questions at the beginning and then a year later. (Many of them could no longer be reached because they had completed their studies or for other reasons no longer checked their university e-mail.) Among other things, they were asked about their use of social media, namely whether they had Facebook pages or apps, Twitter, Instagram, Myspace, Tinder, Snapchat, Jodel, Kik and others used. So the researchers were finally able to compare Tinder users with non-users.

Group differences

The users of the dating app were statistically significantly more extravagant and tolerable but less open to experiences. The differences for the last two personality factors are minimal. Likewise, the score for anxiety among users was slightly, but statistically significant, higher. Only 28.2% described themselves as religious, compared with 36.7% of the non-users.

The differences between alcohol and drugs were clear: the alcohol consumption considered dangerous or dependent was 62.8% and 14.0% for Tinder users, compared to 44.3% and 8.7% for non-users. Finally, users had reported illegal substance use more frequently in the past six months (21.2% versus 14.4%).

One weakness of the study, which the authors unfortunately do not discuss, is the gender ratio: Among Tinder users, at 43.4%, the proportion of men was higher than among non-users (38.1%). Men - and especially young men - are known to consume more alcohol / drugs. Hence, at least part of the difference between the groups may simply be due to this.

The most important question remains: Did Tinder users have more romantic relationships by the second time? In fact, the chances of this were 31% higher than for non-users, which was also clearly statistically significant. In more detailed analyzes, however, the researchers show that these differences are essentially due to differences in personality and differences in substance use.

Well-tried means

In other words: It seems to be less due to the dating app itself than to extraversion and alcohol or drug use. Extroverts interact more with their social environment; a more common word for this would be “conviviality”. And alcohol and other substances are known to make it easier for people to establish contacts (the drug as an instrument).

The thoughts formulated at the beginning already suggested that online dating is not a miracle cure. Then there simply wouldn't be more and more singles. The conclusion of the new study from Norway seems to be rather low tech: Those who want a steady relationship should above all approach others openly and could make use of a “technology” that has been widespread in our culture for thousands of years. With this in mind: do we want to have a beer or a glass of wine together?

Note: This post also appears on Telepolis - Magazin für Netzkultur. Cover graphic: Tumisu on Pixabay.

The discussions here are free and are generally not moderated. Treat each other respectfully, orientate yourself on the topic of the blog posts and avoid repetitions or monologues. When exchanging ideas, things can get hot, but not be offensive, and above all never go below the belt. Stephan Schleim is a studied philosopher, psychologist and doctorate in cognitive science. Since 2009 he has been at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, currently as Associate Professor of Theory and History of Psychology. The author also writes for numerous other media.

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