Modern matchmaking: the truth about tinder

Ten million people use Tinder everyday, but do they know how the app is using them? Blogs Editor, Mariana Avelino, examines how technology and design can influence how we think and the decisions we make.

Initially introduced as a matchmaking app in 2012, Tinder has since been labelled a casual sex app, criticised for promoting shallowness and condemned for enabling promiscuity. Its bad reputation comes from the discourse of many journalists, scholars, and members of the public, though, admittedly, this rhetoric is changing as the app becomes increasingly mainstream and more people are finding long-term relationship partners through it.

A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Telematics and Informatics found that Tinder is used for a variety of reasons, including entertainment, self-validation, casual sex, and love. This study reminds us that technology doesn’t have an agenda, it is humans who determine how technology is used. Nonetheless, we mustn’t overlook the important ways in which Tinder is influencing users’ decisions. Technology isn’t in complete control, but neither are people.

Consider Tinder’s gamification, which simplifies, accelerates, and rewards. The app’s UI simplifies decision-making into a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it encourages repetitive motions which become fast and automatic (how many times have you accidentally swiped incorrectly for someone just because you were in the groove of swiping left/ right?), and it ‘unlocks’ matches in much the same way a game would reward levelling up. Like a game, it is designed to be easy, fun and addictive. And although there are benefits to making matching convenient and entertaining – nothing like online dating where browsing profiles takes hours and feels like work – the gamification of Tinder is problematic in other ways, especially for users hoping to find long-term partners.

The app’s fast pace encourages users to evaluate potential matches very quickly. A study into decision-making by Frost, Chance, Norton and Ariely (2008) has shown that time-efficient cognitive processes result in people focussing on cues that are easy to evaluate. In other words, cues, such as physical attractiveness, which tend to be the relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It has long been suggested that Tinder prioritises physical attractiveness because of the emphasis it places on photographs. As it turns out, people are capable of accurately assessing subtle traits in others, including warmth and competence, from brief exposures to their pictures, according to a study published in 2000 in the Journal of Advances in Experimental Social Psycology. So, the issue is not the photograph, but the fact that Tinder users must make fast decisions. Of course, a partner’s physical attractiveness is something people have always considered offline as well, especially during the early stages of a relationship, but there are other cues that come into play, like humour, rapport, and confidence.

Also problematic is Tinder’s simplicity, which allows for no middle ground: users must either like a profile or discard it forever within seconds. Finally, Tinder’s reward system encourages the quantification of matches, which is complicated for self-esteem. The more a person uses the app, the more they might start swiping for the wrong reason: self-validation.


Tinder doesn’t deserve all the bad reputation it gets, but it definitely has its problems. If you use Tinder to meet people you hope to develop a relationship with, I would encourage you not retire from the old-fashioned channels. Chat to new people at events or parties, join societies, and just be sociable in general. We are at university, a place where we are surrounded by people and have plenty of free time on our hands. It’ll never be easier to meet others, so why not make the most of it?

Mariana Avelino

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