DENTON, Texas (UNT) -- University of North Texas researchers conducted one of the first studies of the dating app Tinder and have found that men are most at risk for lowered self-esteem while using the app. This finding is surprising compared to past research, which has shown that women's self-perceptions are most affected by visual media including magazines, television and social networking sites.
Jessica Strubel, assistant professor in UNT's Department of Merchandising and Digital Retailing, and Trent Petrie, professor in the Department of Psychology, surveyed 1,044 female and 273 male undergraduates to examine Tinder's effect on psychosocial well-being. Their results were presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention Aug. 4 to 7 in Denver.
As anticipated in the study, the researchers discovered a correlation between app use and self-worth indicators – such as body satisfaction, self-esteem, feelings of body shame, internalization of cultural beauty standards, comparisons to others and self-objectification – for both genders. However, one finding was surprising.
"When it came to self-esteem, men had significantly lower self-esteem if they were Tinder users," said Strubel. "When you think of the negative consequences, you usually think of women, but men are just as susceptible."
Individuals on Tinder use smartphones to match with potential dates by swiping right to "like" a person's profile photo or swiping left to "pass" – a method the researchers said puts individuals' attractiveness above other character attributes, which may be behind the detriment to psychosocial well-being.
"We thought females would the most strongly, and adversely, be affected by using Tinder, particularly given the extent to which women adopt societal beauty ideals," said Petrie. "The fact that male and female Tinder users reported similar levels of psychological distress was surprising."
Among the other results:
- Regardless of gender, Tinder users reported less psychosocial well-being and more indicators of body dissatisfaction than non-users.
- Tinder users' self-worth reports were relatively equal for both genders – with the exception of lower male self-esteem, as noted above. The researchers believe Tinder may be destabilizing traditional gender norms and leveling the dating playing field, making men as likely to be exploited as women.
- The lower male self-esteem may result from the "emotionally vulnerable" position many men are subjected to on Tinder and the ability of women to be discerning of potential matches. More men use Tinder, and past reports show that men are three times more likely to "swipe right," opening them up to harmful experiences such as rejection and ghosting. Ghosting occurs when a romantic interest suddenly ignores and/or ends all contact without explanation.
- Even for men with relatively high self-esteem, "the current Tinder system does not appear to work in their favor."
"The concept of dating has changed, and users should be aware of the ramifications," said Strubel. "Other social media have been studied a lot, but Tinder is a new media with a hyper focus on physical appearance and casual hookups and an expectation for instantaneous feedback."
Petrie agreed, adding it's important to understand the risks.
"As mental health providers, we have to be aware that when young adults come in feeling socially isolated and worried about their appearance, a potential reason may be their involvement with social media. We need to be aware of this so that we can talk about it with our clients," he continued.
While the psychosocial impact of social media sites like Facebook have been widely studied, this is one of the first studies to examine Tinder. With this, the UNT researchers acknowledge that more work needs to be done to understand the immediate and long-term impacts; to study larger and more diverse groups of users; and to examine how users feel when they are rejected or accepted on Tinder and similar dating sites.