It's an experience almost universal to those trying to date in the 21st century: you've been idly swiping for your entire commute to work when your app of choice tells you, somewhat judgily, that you've rejected all available prospects within a 20 mile radius. (Which is rude! No string of code gets to call me picky.) But are dating apps addictive? According to a new study, they just might be — particularly if you're lonely, or struggle with social anxiety.
In a study published last month in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers from Ohio State University, in the U.S., and Yonsei University, in South Korea, investigated which personality types were most likely to result in "problematic use" of dating apps. So what constitutes "problematic use" of the apps? According to the study authors, "negative outcomes" resulting from dating app use include "choosing the internet over offline social gatherings and getting into trouble at work or school for overuse of the internet." (It's important to note here that assuming "in person" socialising is inherently more valuable than online communication can be ableist: for disabled people who might find it difficult to leave the house, the internet can be a lifeline.)
The authors selected 269 undergraduate university students who'd used dating apps before, and asked them to rate how much they agreed with statements designed to measure five variables: social anxiety, preference for online social interaction (POSI), loneliness, compulsive use of dating apps, and negative outcomes of their dating app use.
To measure social anxiety, for instance, participants were asked to rate how much they agreed with statements including, "I am constantly nervous around other people." POSI was measured using statements like, "I feel safer starting a conversation with someone in a dating application rather than face-to-face."
Statements like "I feel left out," measured the participants' loneliness, while statements determining compulsive use included, "I have made unsuccessful attempts to control my use of dating applications." Negative outcomes of dating app use were measured with statements including, "I missed class or work because of dating apps."
The findings? People with social anxiety frequently agreed with statements like, "I am more confident socialising on dating apps than offline," often preferring to meet possible dates online rather than in person. Social anxiety alone didn't typically result in problematic use of dating apps, however — compulsive use usually developed in people who were both socially anxious and lonely. "That combination led to compulsive use and then negative outcomes," Kathryn Coduto, the study's lead author and a doctoral student at Ohio State University, said in a press release.
Worried your dating app use could be considered compulsive? Coduto advised using time regulating apps that limit how long you spend swiping or when you can access the apps. "Especially if you’re lonely, be careful in your choices. Regulate and be selective in your use," she said. If you want to tackle your social anxiety, or don't think you can temper your dating app use alone, try speaking to a therapist if you're able — after all, habits can be extremely hard to break.