the psychology of dating apps.

07 10 19 — Science

If you’re currently single, in an open relationship, or bored in a monogamous one, chances are you’ve dabbled in a bit of swiping. There’s no doubt that dating apps have drastically reshaped the way people find love—and sex—but are they messing with our minds? 

Well, yes, they are. 

In fact, there’s a whole documentary about it. HBO’s Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age not only explores the darker side of dating app culture, but also makes a pretty salient point—dating apps are geared to feel like video games, which can make them addictive. The rush that we feel when we match with someone on an app stimulates that same adrenaline that we feel when we win something. The gamification aspect is even made even more stimulating by the fact that we don’t know when the next match is coming, so we feel motivated to keep swiping. 

But there are detrimental effects that come with that adrenaline-seeking behavior. There’s increasing evidence that frequent use of dating apps—and the rejection that comes with it—can cause anxiety and issues with body confidence and self-worth.

So how do we use dating apps without damaging our mental health? A good way to start is by setting limits for how often you’re swiping. For example, try keeping your time spent swiping to 10 minutes a day or until you’ve swiped right on 10 people. Also important? Being mindful of your headspace when you pick up your phone to swipe. If you’re doing it because you’re feeling low and need a self-esteem boost, you might be doing yourself more harm than good. 

And finally, be conscious of how you’re treating other people. Dating apps can make us all feel like we’re “disposable” if our matches stop responding or abruptly unmatch with us. So try to be as respectful as possible in your interactions with other people and be honest about why you are no longer interested. While it might be tempting to swipe right on everyone so that you have the potential for more matches—leading to a bigger ego boost—that’s not really fair if you know you definitely won’t be interested in some of them. As with most things in life, the golden rule applies. 

Feel like you’ve had enough of dating apps? Our guide on how to meet someone IRL might help.