There’s no doubt about that online dating and dating apps have changed the way we start, form, and end romantic relationships. We may also wonder whether the convenience of these apps has encouraged us to behave differently than we would in ‘real life’.
More specifically, do mobile dating apps breed bad or antisocial behaviour?
If you use dating apps, you’ve probably been “ghosted” (where someone cuts all contact) from time to time – or maybe you’ve ghosted someone yourself. You may have discovered that someone you were chatting with through an app was in a relationship. Or if you don’t use these apps, you may have heard horror stories from friends.
Let’s take a look at some of the bad behaviors we see most often — and how psychology can explain them.
One of the main themes is how often people use dating apps while in a relationship. Data from the US has shown about 42% of people with a Tinder profile were in a relationship or married.
In an investigation about two-thirds of US undergraduate students revealed that they had seen someone on Tinder that they knew was in a relationship. Furthermore, 17% of the participants said they messaged someone on Tinder while in a committed relationship, and 7% entered into a sexual relationship with someone they met on Tinder while in a committed relationship.
There is also evidence that people are using dating apps to keep track of what we call “underhandRelationships. This is when someone on a dating app connects with another person in hopes of pursuing something romantic or sexual one day.
Surprisingly, the authors of a study from 2018 involving 658 undergraduate college students found that the number of reported backburners did not differ significantly among those who were single, casually dating, or in committed relationships. About 73% of all respondents indicated that they had at least one backburner.
Online communication, of course, makes it much easier to keep in touch. Researchers have suggested that maintaining a relationship in a backstabbing relationship involves positivity (being compassionate to the other person and making sure interactions with them are fun and enjoyable), openness (disclosure of personal information, perhaps even sharing secrets), and assurance (displaying maintain a desire for the relationship over time).
Online dating has also made ghosting much easier. A study 2019 found that respondents had ghosted 29% of the people they’d dated, and 25% of the dates themselves. In addition, 74% of respondents said ghosting was an appropriate way to end a relationship.
Participants in this study reported cases of both sudden ghosting (abrupt cessation of contact) and gradual ghosting (slowing down of contact before disappearing completely). Gradual ghosting increased the level of uncertainty for the person ghosting.
Ghosting is probably so common because of the ease of ending a relationship this way, especially if the couple has yet to meet in person. The authors of the same study also emphasize that online dating offers a plethora of potential partners, and people who “ghost” a partner may do so because they have switched to a new one.
People don’t just use dating apps for relationship seeking or for sex – many people report using them just for fun. As such, more sincere users of these apps can be easy targets for trolls, who just want to create conflict and hurt other online users for their own pleasure.
A 2017 study found that trolls in dating apps scored highly on sadistic behavior, showing no respect for the pain or suffering inflicted on other people; and strong on dysfunctional impulsivity, characterized by failure to keep promises.
Some Common Reasons for Bad Behavior
The convenience and abundance of choice in online dating may encourage a culture of “disposability” – being able to “trade in” into the dating market and let a current partner down more easily. Personal mobile devices, equipped with a passcode or facial recognition, enable and may even encourage more covert and secretive behavior.
Online behavior is generally often characterized by: disinhibition – we tend to behave more freely online than in a face-to-face context. In part, this is due to the sense of anonymity we have online.
Finally, the way people use dating apps is strongly related to personality traits. For example, people with open (open to experience, adventurous) and less pleasant (less caring and considerate to others) personality styles are more likely to use dating apps in a more casual way.
When bad or dysfunctional behavior now seems commonplace on dating apps, social media and online in general, the technology that led to this behavior has become indispensable. We may need to adjust our expectations accordingly.