Mind & Body

Dating-App Addiction Is a Thing, and Researchers Determined Who's Most at Risk

Do you find yourself swiping left and right on Tinder until your thumbs are going to fall off? Do you sometimes find yourself checking your OkCupid messages during inappropriate times, like meetings at work or first dates with other people? Is just reading this making you wonder if you have any new matches? It turns out that dating-app addiction is a real thing, and according to a new study, it's especially likely for people with certain personality traits.

Why You So Obsessed With Me?

Common criticisms of dating apps say they've gamified our romantic pursuits. Likewise, experts warn that technology like smartphones and social media can be addictive. So it may come as no surprise then that researchers at The Ohio State University have confirmed that dating app addiction is, in fact, a real thing. In a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the researchers found that people with a particular combination of loneliness and social anxiety were more prone to becoming addicted to dating apps.

They made this discovery in a roundabout way. Instead of directly measuring their participants' levels of social anxiety and loneliness, they relied on past research into problematic internet use that linked social anxiety with a tendency to prefer interacting with people online rather than face to face — something scientists call POSI, or "preference for online social interaction," which generally comes with the belief that you're safer and more confident chatting online than off. Research has also linked loneliness to impaired self-regulation, one effect of which could be compulsive app use.

With these links in mind, the team surveyed a group of 269 undergraduate students, the prime generation of dating app users. The students were asked to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements designed to see how much they preferred online social interactions and how compulsively they used these types of apps. The statements included things like "I'm treated better on dating apps than offline" and "I have made unsuccessful attempts to control my use of dating apps." They were also asked to report any consequences they experienced as a result of using dating apps, like getting in trouble for browsing and swiping on profiles while in class or at work.

Kathryn Conduto, the study's lead author, said she's witnessed dating app addicts' behavior firsthand.

"They take their phones out when they're at dinner with friends or when they're in groups. They really can't stop swiping," she said in a press release about the study.

One Is the Loneliest Number

Socially anxious people — those who indicated that they feel more confident socializing with others on dating apps than in person — showed a preference for meeting romantic partners digitally than face-to-face. But this preference alone didn't cause them to use dating apps compulsively. Only with the addition of loneliness — and the lack of self-regulation that comes with it — did people truly become impulsive users who experienced negative outcomes, like getting in trouble for swiping at school or work.

Like with other types of addiction, the first step is to become aware and acknowledge the problem. Dating app addicts don't need to quit cold turkey, but they should work on recognizing when they're feeling lonely and try to set limits for themselves, Conduto said. There is truly an app for everything: If you have trouble setting or abiding by your own rules, there are apps that can set a limit on how long or often you use dating apps each day. And if you're feeling lonely and socially anxious, you can also try some low-tech loneliness fixes like spending time with a pet, reading a novel, or doing something creative. Good luck!

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Dating can be demoralizing. If you need a pick-me-up, check out "It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single" by Sara Eckel. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Steffie Drucker August 21, 2019

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