Depressed, anxious people use dating apps more. Research shows they also use them differently.

January 14, 2021

Dating apps are more popular among socially anxious, depressed people. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

People who suffer from social anxiety tend to spend more time using mobile dating apps such as Tinder, according to a new study — though despite using them more, they’re less likely to initiate contact with matches than their less anxious peers.

The research, published in October in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found a positive association between high levels of dating app usage and increased levels of social anxiety and depression. 

Social anxiety and depression are often associated with a greater difficulty in forming intimate relationships and an overall lower likelihood of an individual being involved in a romantic relationship. The study noted that individuals who have social anxiety more often avoid asking people out on dates due to fear of rejection, and that depression manifesting as anhedonia, or the inability to feel joy, can also create a barrier to establishing relationships.

This investigation was borne out of a desire to see how socially anxious individuals are forming relationships through contemporary technology, especially in light of previous research that had linked dating apps to negative mental health consequences, according to Ariella Lenton-Brym, a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at Ryerson University and an author of the study. 

“It seems that socially anxious individuals struggle to form new relationships and because of that, dating apps may be potentially helpful,” Lenton-Brym said. “But on the other hand, they may be potentially hurtful to people in general, as well as to people who may be more vulnerable.”

The study involved 374 participants who were required to complete surveys that examined psychopathology and dating app usage. The findings showed that higher levels of social anxiety and depression were positively associated with higher levels of dating app usage, and highlighted how these individuals were less likely to initiate contact with a match made through the app. Of the participants who said they used dating apps, 20.2% said that if they saw a profile they liked, they would swipe “no” in the hopes of being contacted another way, with an additional 48.6% saying that they’d swipe “yes” only to then not message the person they matched with.

The results raise the question of whether individuals who suffer from social anxiety or depression are actually gaining any sort of benefit from using dating apps.

“It’s not that these apps are actually giving people new relationships, they’re just using them more,” Lenton-Brym said. “Whether that’s translating into new relationships is unclear.”

The study also looked into additional reasons for dating app usage, including “ease of communication,” “self-worth validation,” “thrill of excitement” and “trendiness.” Increased levels of social anxiety and depression were positively associated with individuals endorsing these alternative reasons for their app usage.

Lenton-Brym noted that this initial study was conducted essentially as a “proof of concept” in order to see if the presence of social anxiety and depressive symptoms were related to higher levels of dating app usage. The next steps for this line of research would involve trying to understand causality, directionality and more specifics regarding types of psychopathology and types of dating apps, Lenton-Brym said, as well as trying to take a stronger look at “some of the barriers that this population experiences when using dating apps.” 

The relative recency of dating apps and websites coming into mainstream usage means that there is still a lot of work to be done in understanding how they can influence their users’ mental health, Lenton-Brym added.

“Dating apps are one of the main ways that young people are meeting now, and we do seem to know so little, still, about … how it’s changing relationships, how it’s changing people’s goals, how it’s changing people’s pickiness — there’s all kinds of questions to explore there,” Lenton-Brym said. “It’s a really untapped field so far, and there’s a ton of questions to be answered there.”

The article, “Associations Between Social Anxiety, Depression, and Use of Mobile Dating Apps,” was published Oct. 12, 2020 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. It was authored by Ariella Lenton-Brym, Vincent Santiago, Beverley Fredborg, and Martin Antony, all of Ryerson University.

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