From the University of the Obvious


Some academics make it very hard to argue against funding cuts to higher education. Take, for example, this groundbreaking research into the online dating apps:

New research from William Chopik, an associate professor in the Michigan State University Department of Psychology, and Dr. David Johnson from the University of Maryland, finds that people’s reason for swiping right is based primarily on attractiveness and the race of a potential partner, and that decisions are often made in less than a second.

“Despite online dating becoming an increasingly popular way for people to meet one another, there is little research on how people connect with each other on these platforms,” said Chopik. “We wanted to understand what makes someone want to swipe left or swipe right, and the process behind how they make those decisions.”…

Male participants, on average, swiped right more often than women, and it was also found that individuals who perceive themselves to be more attractive swipe left more often overall, proving to be choosier when picking out potential partners.

“It’s extremely eye-opening that people are willing to make decisions about whether or not they would like to get to another human being, in less than a second and based almost solely on the other person’s looks,” said Chopik.

Not wanting to stereotype university researchers, but Chopik sounds like he never went out on a Saturday night in his life.  Because what Tinder is (and I use it as a collective noun for all dating apps) is a giant nightclub or a bar or a pub – depending on your Saturday night tastes – where you enter the premises and scan the room to see who catches your eye. Not knowing anything about anyone else, you make the initial selection based on the superficial: whether you are attracted or not. But it’s the only initially apparent aspect. Getting to know someone comes later. Sure, as many will say, looks or physical attraction is not everything, but it is a factor for most people (in fact, it is a factor throughout the animal world – perhaps the factor, since zebras or hummingbirds can’t go out for a drink and chat about personality and future plans). And yes, by focusing on physical attraction, you are ruling out most others, lots of whom might be lovely and interesting people, but then again, if your primary desired trait in a partner is a pleasant disposition, shared religious commitment or a passion for painting, you are unlikely to be cruising night spots or online apps in search of lifelong love.

The facts that on Tinder (which, contrary to the impression created by my secretly-popular series, has never been “just” a “hook-up app”) people swipe right on those they find attractive, that attractive people are particularly selective, and that men are less choosy than women were all well known right from the start, and arguably did not need a university study to discover. In fact, all these propositions are well known in psychology in general, never mind the specific online dating context. Even the fact that we decide in a matter of seconds if we’re attracted to someone has been recognised for some time. Online dating might be affecting the way we now approach the search for partners – the seemingly never-ending procession of “potentials” out there makes everyone more disposable – but it does not change the basic human psychology.

Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash