Economic and Social Research Council
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Tinder reinforces ancient mating behaviour, say researchers

How people pick dates on Tinder is all down to evolution, according to new research. Men choose ‘hot’ partners whereas women prize intelligence and stability - just as their ancestors did.

Tinder is seen as having revolutionised how men and women find a soulmate. However, research led by Dr Mirjam Brady-Van den Bos, from the University of Aberdeen, suggests that the app actually reinforces ancient mating behaviour.

Her work is one of the first studies of its kind, and will be the focus of an event as part of the annual Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.

"Our research demonstrates that we haven’t really changed in all those millennia of evolution," says Ms Brady-Van den Bos, from the School of Psychology.

"Tinder is seen as a sophisticated but artificial way of meeting prospective partners. What we’ve shown though is that the way people search for potential dates is in line with what evolutionary theories on human mating choices would predict."

The Tinder app uses GPS tracking to find potential matches for users where they live, then sends them photographs and biographies of possible ‘dates’. If any take the person’s fancy, they then swipe right to 'like' them. The pair is then considered a match and can start messaging if both swipe right, rather than swiping left to 'pass'.

Dating apps have become an extremely popular way to select a mate. Tinder says 1.6 billion swipes are made each day across 190 countries.

The aim of the University of Aberdeen study was to establish people's perceptions of Tinder, and determine how the app influences the quest to find a romantic partner.

Female and male Tinder users were interviewed all aged from 20 to 26 years and living in North-East Scotland. They were recruited through Facebook then by word of mouth.

Tinder promotes what participants saw as the 'McDonaldisation' of dating. Users did not need to invest much time or effort- just like fast food restaurants. They could instantly link up with a new partner, instead of working through problems with their current one.

Tinder also encourages 'swapping' partners who are not a perfect match. This differs from offline relationships where working through differences can strengthen a relationship, says Dr Brady-Van den Bos.

"Accepting that this 'Macdonaldisation' of romantic partners mirrors real life is hard - but it does. People are reverting to human nature much more than they realise."The study also highlighted clear differences between men and women in why they swiped right or left. Men were mainly focused on appearance, and women looked for evidence for or against men being able to provide stability such as a promising career:

Women Tinder users were also far less trusting than men. They were wary of being tricked by people who use fake profiles to pretend to be someone they are not on social media.

"This potential for abuse of trust was brought up a lot, mainly by female participants," says Dr Brady-Van den Bos. "They weren’t necessarily first-hand experiences but they told stories of people on Tinder dating someone who turned out to be a 'catfish' (have a fake profile)."

"Or that another person had actually used their photograph (to pretend to be them)."

However, some participants saw Tinder as a positive way of meeting people. They believed it to be beneficial for those suffering from social anxiety who struggle to find soulmates via traditional routes such as in bars or clubs.

Dr Mirjam Brady-Van den Bos and her colleagues will be sharing these discoveries about mate selection strategies on Tinder as part of an event entitled Tinder, Dating and Human Desire on 9th November for the general public. The event is part of the ESRC's flagship annual Festival of Social Science.

Notes for editors

  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  2. The 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science takes place from 4-11 November with over 300 free events across the UK. The Festival, now in its fifteenth year, is designed to promote awareness of social science research by enabling scientists to engage with the public through debates, talks, workshops, seminars, film screenings, theatre, exhibitions and much more. The Festival is a unique opportunity for people to meet with some of the country’s leading social scientists and to discover more about the role research plays in their everyday life. A full programme is available online. Join the discussion on Twitter using #esrcfestival. Logos for the festival can be downloaded from the ESRC website.
  3. Tinder, Dating and Human Desire will take place in Aberdeen on 10 November 2017 at 18:00 - 19:30.


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