First base is hooking up, second base is talking, third base is going on a date and fourth base is dating
Dating apps, sexual deception, and dark triad personality traits
"In the United States, 35 percent of Tinder users are college students ages 18 to 24...’I’ve heard a joke on campus that goes something like this: ‘First base is hooking up, second base is talking, third base is going on a date and fourth base is dating.’" (source).
I am just old enough to remember what the dating scene was like before the rise of Tinder and other dating/hook-up apps. It has changed a lot.
2012 was another world in many ways.
The situation has changed for everyone on the dating market. Even those who don’t use these apps. This is because even for the people who don’t use the apps, they still live in an environment where others use them. Over time, those who don’t use apps must adapt to the preferences and behavior of those who use them. Not the other way around.
One example of how the scene has changed. I have a friend from college. A good-looking guy. He showed me how many women he has matched with: More than 21,000. Twenty-one thousand. Tinder actually identified him as a valuable user early on, and gave him free perks and upgrades. They lifted his radius restrictions. This allowed him to match with even more women. I have another friend. Doesn’t have the best pictures on his profile. But not a bad looking guy. Over roughly the same period of time as my other friend, he has matched with seven women.
Some findings on dating apps:
18 to 25 percent of Tinder users are in a committed relationship. source
Women aged 23 to 27 are twice as likely to swipe right ("liked") on a man with a master's degree compared with a bachelor's degree. source
Men swipe right (“liked”) on 62 percent of the women’s profiles they see; women swipe right (“liked”) on only 4.5 percent of the men’s profiles they see. source
Half of men who use dating apps while in a committed relationship reported having sex with another person they met on a dating app. All women who used dating apps while in a committed relationship reported having sex with another person they met on a dating app. source
30 percent of men who use Tinder are married. source
In terms of attractiveness, the bottom 80% of men are competing for the bottom 22% of women and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men. source
One way dating apps might be changing the dating scene. People used to have to go out to meet people. And it was costly to lose a relationship partner, in part because of the process involved in meeting someone new. Today, people know that a new partner is a few swipes away. Partners might be more replaceable. If things start deteriorating with their current partner, some can pull out a goldmine in their pocket.
There may be some sexual stratification going on as well. My two friends are examples of the above finding that being slightly more attractive as a man leads to far more matches.
Social scientists have focused a lot on economic, class, and cognitive divisions.
I am curious about something. Money hasn’t been around for that long. But it's often treated as the key incentive driving human behavior. Sex has been around much longer. We have been motivated by it since before we were human. It has been around since long before humans existed. It will exist long after humans are extinct.
At least among young males, it is a key driver for everything they do. They have to actively suppress this desire to get anything else done. Or sublimate that energy into other tasks with the hope that completing them will somehow improve their romantic prospects.
Still, sex doesn't seem to be taken as seriously as the other incentives. We understand people are often motivated by money, fame, status, power etc. But why do people want those things?
According to Pew, as of 2020, 30% of American adults have reported using a dating app or website.
What kind of people use dating apps?
Some have told me they believe there isn’t much difference between people who use the apps and people who don’t. One recurring reason I’ve heard is that dating apps are pervasive, and so their users are representative of the general population.
A study published two years ago explored the differences between users and non-users of dating apps.
The researchers describe the clever marketing origins of Tinder:
“Tinder was initially designed for and marketed to Greek life members at known “party” schools in California. Attractive women would approach local sororities and urge them to create profiles. Once the application had female users, the Tinder team would use this as a selling point to get fraternity members to join. Employing this strategy at multiple schools, Tinder quickly became the place to go to find attractive college students, with 90% of original users between the ages of 18–24.”
To investigate differences between dating app users and non-users, the researchers recruited 1,310 participants. These participants were students at a large public university aged 18 to 29. About one-third of participants (n = 421) reported using dating apps, while two-thirds reported being non-users. This roughly matches the finding from Pew.
Typically, it’s wise to be cautious when a study looks only at college students. But in this case, it’s helpful because the participants are similar in many ways. Roughly the same age, education level, and social class. So within this group, what are some differences between app users and non-users?
Researchers wanted to see whether the users differed on 6 key variables:
Use of illegal drugs
Negative drinking behaviors (e.g., frequency of drinking, number of drinks consumed, frequency of blacking out)
Sexual behaviors (e.g., number of sex partners in the last 6 months, frequency of sex after binge drinking)
Sexual deception (e.g., “Have you ever told someone ‘I love you’ but really didn’t just to have sex with them?”)
Sexual compulsivity (e.g., “I sometimes fail to meet my commitments and responsibilities because of my sexual behaviors”)
Self-control (measure of temper, self-centeredness, impulsivity)
Adversarial beliefs (e.g. how much participants agreed with statements like “Sex is like a game where one person "wins" and the other "loses.")
The researchers report “Overall, online dating users were significantly different from non-users on all variables examined” (all p’s < .001).
People who used dating apps scored significantly higher than non-users on:
Sexual deception (d = .62)
Negative drinking behaviors (d = .56)
Sexual behaviors (d = .35)
Sexual compulsivity (d = .30)
Adversarial sexual beliefs (d = .17)
Dating app users scored significantly lower than non-users on self-control (d = .22)
Forty-six percent of dating app users reported ever using illegal drugs, compared with 28% of non-users. Furthermore, thirty-seven percent of those who use dating apps reported that they had recently used drugs, compared with 20% who do not use apps.
The researchers also looked at sex-specific differences.
They compared male dating app users with male non-users, and female users with female non-users. Compared with male non-users, male dating app users scored in the direction you’d expect on every measure (significantly more likely to use drugs, engage in sexual deception, etc.). The same was true for differences between female users and non-users, except for females there was no significant difference in adversarial beliefs or self-control.
Again, these participants were similar in age, education level, and social class. And yet there were still sizable differences between dating app users compared to non-users. These results suggest that there are indeed differences between dating app users and non-users.
Relatedly, a 2019 study found that Tinder use is associated with Dark Triad personality traits.
Compared with non-users, people who use Tinder score significantly higher on all three Dark Triad personality traits:
Psychopathy (d = .74)
Machiavellianism (d = .32)
Narcissism (d = .29)
Dark Triad personality traits are also strongly correlated with using Tinder for casual sex:
Psychopathy (r = .60)
Machiavellianism (r = .34)
Narcissism (r = .32)
The researchers conclude that "Tinder can be a venue for people high on the Dark Triad to pursue short-term mating strategies."
Among those who use apps, there are some interesting differences based on education.
From Pew, comparing those with a high school diploma or less and those who have graduated from college:
Experiences on dating apps have been negative: 53% (high school or less) vs. 37% (college graduates)
It is common to receive sexually explicit messages they didn’t ask for: 61% vs. 37%
Being bullied or harassed on dating apps is common: 36% vs. 15%
Dating apps are not a safe way to meet people: 57% vs. 34%
Relationships that begin through a dating app are just as successful as meeting in person: 51% vs. 62%
Dating app users with less formal education live in a different dating reality than those with a college degree.
A friend at a top university told me that when he sets his dating app radius to 5 miles, many of the women, mostly students, said they were “polyamorous” or interested in “open relationships” in their bios. Then, when he extended the radius to 15 miles to include the rest of the city and its outskirts, about half of the women were single moms.
For more on dating apps and the Dark Triad, check out my conversation with Mikhaila Peterson:
To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or premium member.