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September 20, 2018

Can Dating Apps Affect Your Mental Health?

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According to researchers at the University of North Texas, those who use the dating app Tinder report lower levels self-esteem and body image than those who don’t use the app.

Jess joined Jeff and Carolyn to discuss the effects of dating on your self-image and emotional health on The Morning Show. Check out the video and notes below:

1. What did these Tinder researchers find?

This study included 1,044 women and 273 men – mostly undergraduate students. Only ten percent used the app, so the data about lower self-esteem and body image is comparing about 100 women and 27 men who use the app to approximately 900 women and 250 men who do not. This is a relatively small sample size, but the findings suggest that:

a. Men who use Tinder report lower self-esteem.

b. Women and men who use Tinder report higher levels of “body dissatisfaction, body shame, body monitoring, internalization of societal expectations of beauty, comparing oneself physically to others, and reliance on media for information on appearance and attractiveness”.

It’s important to note that this data suggests correlation — not causation. While it’s possible that these apps could contribute to these negative outcomes, it’s also possible that people who already experience lower self-esteem and poor body image are more attracted to these apps in the first place.

2. Why might using an app like Tinder take a toll on your body image?

It makes sense that the reliance on appearance as the determinant of whether or not you’re accepted can reprogram the way in which you measure your own self-worth.

2a. What can you do to offset these effects?

All media, including social media, can produce these negative effects. It is therefore important that you remind yourself that the number of likes, comments or right swipes you get isn’t a determinant of self-worth. And when it comes to body image, surround yourself with people who love their bodies. Body image is contagious. You need to spend time loving and appreciating your body. Try it right now: what do you like about your body? Say it out loud.

3. And what about your self-esteem and self-worth?

The volume of people with whom you interact with, with the purpose or potential of connecting also increases when you’re using an app like Tinder. This means you may meet more people, but you also are inevitably exposed to more rejection, because you’re not going to match with everyone.

Online interactions can also feel depersonalized and you can feel as though you’re disposable because you’re creating openings for rejection. But learning to manage rejection is an important life skill.

4. How do you learn to cope with rejection whether you’re online or in a bar?

That’s an important question with a long answer, but when it comes to sexual rejection, I have a few tips.

1. Allow yourself to feel the negative emotion. Don’t feel you need to laugh it off or toughen up because you will never deal with or overcome an emotion if you don’t acknowledge it. Rejection hurts because it activates the same part of the brain associated with physical pain. It’s an evolutionary holdover, so you’re perfectly normal.

2. Be kind to yourself. (And think about something you like about yourself or something about you that other people tend to compliment.) Their rejection has more to do with them than with you. Just because someone isn’t interested in you doesn’t mean that you’re not X enough. You are — you’re just not a fit for them.

5. We’ve heard you advise people to use dating apps in the past. Do these findings make you want to take back that advice? Should people be using these apps if it takes such a toll on their emotional health?

I have a few concerns with dating apps and technology that is intended to increase connection, but I still think these apps are useful if you acknowledge these risks and take steps to protect yourself:

Technology detracts from presence; it’s essential to set limits and stick to them. Perhaps you limit your check-ins to 3 per day or shut down at 7 pm. Or perhaps you use a “snooze” function like the one offered by Bumble that helps to reduce the risk of compulsive digital check-ins. Don’t put your real-life relationships at risk by allowing yourself to be distracted by potential digital relationships that may be fleeting. Prioritize your existing relationships over your potential ones.

Technology creates unrealistic expectations of beauty, performance, status, achievement and more; every time you see something that makes you feel inadequate, remember that it’s just a highlight reel and most of the “game” is spent sitting on the bench and striking out before hitting that home run.

But technology also has the potential to spark love, inspire empathy, improve performance, facilitate mindfulness and even save lives if we use it responsibly. Let’s not overstate the role of technology when it is, in fact, humans controlling its design and use.