Dating and Dopamine: Swipe, Match, Reward

You know when an Instagram notification pops up on your home screen and you feel that instant rush of validation?

You may not be able to see the number of likes you’ve gotten but the fact that notifications keep popping up is enough to keep the dopamine levels high. 

Turns out dating-apps work the same way. Despite nearly 26 million matches made every day on Tinder alone, the Pew Research Centre found that only five per cent of committed relationships began online and that two-thirds of users have never even gone on a date with someone they met through an app. 

When it comes to dating-apps, it’s not always about finding your significant other. Sometimes the game is more arousing than the players, and why wouldn’t it be when the grand prize is an ego-boost?   

Social psychologist Jeanette Purvis wrote her dissertation on sexual conflict on Tinder and explained that “In a study on the brains of drug addicts, researchers found that the expectation of the drug caused more release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine than the actual drug itself. Similarly, for those who may be expecting the next swipe on Tinder to lead to reward, serial swiping can start to look and feel a lot like an addiction.”

You’re basically training your brain to expect an immediate reward by swiping with Tinder. 

It’s the same idea as a slot machine. Players don’t necessarily know when they’re going to hit the jackpot but they play because at some point - if they just keep pulling that lever - they’ll win. Tinder works the same way. Users don’t know when they’ll be alerted that they have a match, but eventually that ding, music to their ears, will let them know. 

Not to mention their profile will still appear on the app for other users to swipe right on. It means that, even if you haven’t used the app in quite some time, you can still check back and discover a whole new set of matches. There’s an unpredictable quality and that keeps users hooked and in search of a dopamine fix. 

Tinder hijacks the part of your brain that tells you, you have a reward by sending you  notifications when you have a match. The first time you get a notification dopamine doesn’t increase until you start seeing profiles. As time goes on and Tinder showers you with matches, you might start to notice the dopamine kicking in a little early. In other words, you start to experience the reward simply because you see the notification.

You’re basically training your brain to expect an immediate reward by swiping with Tinder. 

According to a 2014  story in the New York Times, an average user logs into Tinder 11 times per day, working up to as much as 90 minutes of use in pursuit of the neuro-chemical cocktail of validation that comes with each new match. 

And why wouldn’t you, when that instant hit of dopamine is right at your fingertips? A match means someone find you attractive and that feeling of validation keeps you coming back for more. They show up regularly (and strategically) so that even people who aren’t in love with the idea of dating-apps keep logging back in just because of these small gratifications. 

Sometimes the game is more arousing than the players, and why wouldn’t it be when the grand prize is an ego-boost?

So if you’re going to participate in the endless game of swiping that is dating-apps remember that they’re just that: games.

Dating-apps like Tinder are in the business of advertisements, monthly fees. They’re meant to turn the slot machine in your pocket into your next dopamine fix. 


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