Study Finds Modern Tinder Ads Similar to Yesteryear’s ‘Lonely Hearts’ Newspaper Ads

February 14, 2017

Those without that special Valentine are busy lining up a date on Feb. 14, and a study shows that some things never change when it comes to searching for romance.

More than 25 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say they use online dating apps and websites, up from just 10 percent in 2013.  And 12 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds also use these sites and apps to find romantic partners.

Do heterosexual women and men seek mates and “sell” themselves differently online than years ago when they placed “lonely hearts” ads in newspapers?

That is what a University of Scranton professor set out to explore recently in a study of mating preferences and approaches on the popular mobile dating app Tinder.

Barry X. Kuhle, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Scranton, said that evolutionary psychologists like him used to analyze newspaper ads to identify what women and men look for and how they advertise themselves to potential romantic partners.

Since the search for mates has migrated online, Kuhle and his undergraduate research assistants chose to study Tinder, the four-year-old app available in 30 languages and more than 50 million monthly users. Users sign up, set their search radius, age preference and gender preference, and create a profile that other users can view.

Users can anonymously like or reject potential partners by swiping left (reject) or right (like) on each potential partner’s profile. If two users mutually swipe right they “match” and Tinder then allows them to chat via its in-app messaging client. Free and easy to use, Tinder boasts a staggering 1.6 billion profiles swiped every day, resulting in 26 million daily matches.

“We hypothesized that sex differences in what men and women desire and how they attract a mate evidenced in newspaper ‘lonely hearts’ ads from yesteryear will be similar to what they seek and how they sell themselves nowadays on smartphones via Tinder,” said Dr. Kuhle. He and his research assistants created fake male and female accounts and analyzed profile photos and bios of 272 women and 374 men in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York area.

They rated photos on attractiveness and how humorous they were. Profile bios were then analyzed for word count, traits sought, traits advertised, and whether the user appeared interested in a committed relationship or just “hooking up.” Disagreements on ratings were settled through discussion among the principal investigator and his undergraduate team, comprised of five female and four male students.

As predicted, women were significantly more likely than men to list more traits sought and more traits they found unattractive. They also promoted themselves more than men by including more photos of themselves.

On the other hand and as predicted, men were significantly more likely than women to seek hook ups, and they were more likely than women to promote themselves by being funny or athletic in their pictures and by conveying that they were tall and of high status in their bios.

“The more things change the more they stay the same,” said Dr. Kuhle. “We may search for mates through a different medium these days, but our human nature – what we seek and how we sell ourselves – has not changed over time.”

To read an article about his study, click here.

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