Studies Reveal How Online Dating Can Mess With Your Mental Health

Studies
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Dating isn’t easy on the ego. The search for a soulmate is fraught with opportunities to be rejected, to be ghosted, to be stood up, to be dumped… almost no one escapes unscathed by Cupid’s cruelties.

Then along came online dating. It promised a vaster pool of potential matches than we could ever meet IRL and more control over our romantic lives. At its best, it successfully achieves both - but at its worst, it’s a festering cesspit of anxiety, racism, superficiality, sexism, catfishing, pseudo-intimacy, and trust issues.

Scientists and dating experts are increasingly questioning whether we have the mental resilience to cope with the modern dating landscape, and whether our beloved apps and websites are harming more than they’re helping.

In a 2016 study of the psychosocial effects of Tinder, psychologist Dr. Jessica Strubel found that the app’s “hyper focus on physical appearance” and “expectation for instantaneous feedback” may be undermining the mental health of some singles. Tinder users reported less psychosocial well-being and more indicators of body dissatisfaction than non-users.

“We found that being actively involved with Tinder, regardless of the user’s gender, was associated with 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,” said Strübel.

To the surprise of the research team, male users suffered in particular from lowered self-esteem.

"We thought females would the most strongly, and adversely, be affected by using Tinder, particularly given the extent to which women adopt societal beauty ideals," said study author Trent Petrie. "The fact that male and female Tinder users reported similar levels of psychological distress was surprising."

"When you think of the negative consequences, you usually think of women,” added Strubel, “but men are just as susceptible."

These findings are in line with other studies that have found that social media usage of any kind can encourage users to objectify themselves and compare themselves unfavorably to others, leading to depression and lowered self-esteem.

The trend is likely to continue. A Match.com survey from 2017 found that one in six singles (15%) feel addicted to online dating. Men were 97% more likely to feel addicted to dating than women, but 54% of women felt more burned out by the process.

Alejandro Lleras, a University of Illinois professor, conducted a study in 2016 that linked technology addiction with depression and anxiety.

“People who self-described as having really addictive-style behaviors toward the internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales,” he said, adding that breaking intensive technology-use habits may provide an important supplemental treatment for addressing mental health issues such as general anxiety disorder and depression.

"With growing support for the connection between technology use and mental health, the relationship between motivation for cellphone or internet use and well-being warrants further exploration," he concluded.