Why dating apps can be harmful to your mental health
This year marks the 10th year of sweep-induced thumb sprains, painfully goofy chat lines, and the curious invention of the “ghost.”
Tinder is growing. Unfortunately, this has not been reflected in the emotional maturity and responsibility demonstrated by the powers that be in today’s dating app industry.
A multitude of positive effects have been brought about by the invasion of dating apps, such as a de-stigmatization of sexuality, the opportunity to explore new experiences and places, and the possibility of forging a lasting romantic relationship. However, these are currently severely overshadowed due to the negligence and complete lack of psychological support offered by these apps.
Over the 10 years of Tinder’s market dominance, we’ve seen an increasing number of reports showing how these apps are negatively impacting our brain chemistry. While we shouldn’t overlook the fact that many successful relationships – and a third of marriages – can be traced back to platforms such as Tinder, the reality is that the business models of these apps depend on continuous swiping.
This problem is at the heart of the general system of dating apps: it is not designed to create healthy relationships and connections; rather, it is designed to trigger the brain’s reward system. When we receive a notification that we’ve matched someone or even just looking through attractive faces, it causes increased activity in the region of our brain involved in reward processing.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with boosting dopamine production; in the short term, it is good. However, building our dopamine pathways in the unhealthy and excessive way that Tinder and its companions do has a negative impact on people’s mental well-being in the long run.
While dating apps trigger the release of dopamine, they fail to trigger the complementary opioid system into action, which roars to life whenever we have a high sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. The teams of psychologists employed by these apps have created patterns to give you an intense high that fades quickly, so you’re then motivated to keep scrolling while you try to chase that feeling away more.
Other than that, a 2016 study found that dating app users report lower levels of self-esteem and reduced psychosocial well-being compared to non-users. Online dating also has a disturbing association with increased rates of depression. About 50% of Tinder matches never respond, which exacerbates that pervasive feeling of rejection.
Dating apps have turned into melting pots for mental health issues and damaged connections, and the fault lies firmly with those running these apps. They must take ownership of the impact that their systems can have on the well-being of users and offer emotional, psychological and relational support.
The data leak from Ashley Madison, the extramarital affairs platform, bolstered accusations that the company tampered with female profiles to lure more men to the site. The company claims a 70/30 female-to-male split, but of the more than 35 million leaked documents, only 5 million belong to women. This exemplifies the priority given to profits over user well-being that unfortunately permeates the dating app industry.
If dating apps do not provide this help, users should seek help and learn what they can do to better protect themselves from the emotional and psychological issues these platforms can foster. This involves setting boundaries and being 100% clear about what you want when entering these apps, not deviating from it in the name of the next short-lived dopamine hit.
Dating apps are turning into emotional war zones. Rather than seeking to provide peace offerings, these companies act as agent-provocateurs. It is therefore up to us to strengthen our psychological defenses and our mental arsenals as much as possible and to allow ourselves to have real fun on these platforms.
We can do this by taking steps to do the personal work and self-reflection we need before we jump headlong into a battle that has been raging for 10 years.