Put yourself on Tinder, and you might end up with a date—or a crippling case of negative thoughts about yourself.
So suggests a new study about the psychological effects of the popular dating app, presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. In the study, researchers asked a group of 1,300 mostly college kids to rate how they generally felt about themselves through questionnaires and self-reports. Questions like How satisfied are you with your thighs? and How likely are you to make physical comparisons to others? clued the researchers into their body image and self esteem.
At the very end of the questionnaire, people were asked if they used Tinder.
Compared to people who weren’t on the dating app, Tinder users had lower levels of self-worth, reported being less satisfied with their faces and looks and were more ashamed of their bodies. They were also more likely to think of themselves as sexual objects, to internalize societal ideals about beauty, to compare their appearances to others and to constantly monitor how they looked, the researchers found.
This was true for men as well as women. “If they used Tinder, they reported more negative scores on all of our measures,” says Trent Petrie, co-author of the paper and professor in the psychology department at the University of North Texas. “We thought that was pretty interesting, given the fact that gender usually plays a role in how women and men respond to these types of questionnaires.” Women, it turns out, usually feel the worst about themselves.
But the most fascinating result of all was that men—not women—who used Tinder had the lowest levels of self-esteem.
That may simply be because so many more men than women use Tinder, the researchers speculate. Past research has shown that women are more discerning with their swipes than men, who swipe right more liberally. But saying yes so often with the flick of a finger comes with a risk: the much higher chance of being rejected. “The men, in essence, are put in a position that women often find themselves in, certainly in the dating scene: They’re now being evaluated and are being determined whether or not somebody is interested in them [based on their looks],” says Petrie. “Men may be more likely to get more swipe-lefts. And that can take a toll, perhaps, on those young men.”
In future studies, the researchers plan to look at how the reasons people use Tinder—whether they’re there just to see who matches with them, to hook up or to find a partner—relates to their psychological wellbeing. Research by other groups indicates that most people on Tinder are there primarily for entertainment, not for finding sex partners or a date (let alone true love), which may help explain the findings.
The study can’t determine whether Tinder makes people felt worse about their bodies, whether people with low self-esteem just tend to use it more, or some other reason. “But in general, we can say that when you use any of these current social media platforms, you’re putting yourself out there for potential evaluation,” Petrie says.
Here’s a little dating advice from the psychologist: consider why you’re there. “These platforms may not be the best place to get validation that you’re an ok person or you’re attractive,” he says. “Perhaps we want to look a little more inside ourselves, and to our close friends, for that validation.”
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Write to Mandy Oaklander at firstname.lastname@example.org