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How We Make Decisions on Tinder

Are we really making prudent and sensible decisions on Tinder?

Tinder decision making
Source: Tinder decision making

Arguably the most popular dating app is Tinder, which has been in existence since 2012. One of the appeals of Tinder is that users can quickly access the app and then simply indicate that they like a potential date, by swiping their phone screen to the right, or indicate a dislike by swiping their phone screen to the left. However, are these quick choices the right dating choices? Are we making prudent and sensible choices, or responding and making decisions too quickly? Furthermore, do males and females differ in the way in which they make these decisions?

How Long Does It Take to Assess Facial Attractiveness?

The answer to this question is provided from research by Schacht, Werheid and Sommer (2008) who found that participants in their study took 150 milliseconds to differentiate an attractive face from a non-attractive face, which surprisingly is faster than the process of recognizing a face. In terms of gender differences, evolutionary psychology suggests that males seek to maximize their number of partners, which should result in them making more positive choices. Furthermore their decision-making times should differ to those of females, who evaluate potential partners based on other salient factors such as intelligence, earning potential, work ethic and readiness to invest time and resources in children. Because females have more information to process than males then their decision times in assessing a potential date should be longer compared to males.

In our study, we employed 80 participants, 56 of whom reported being single, and 24 of whom were in a relationship. (Those in a relationship were asked to imagine that they were single and seeking a partner.) Participants were presented with a simulated Tinder environment, featuring photographs of potential dates and asked to respond yes or no to whether or not they would go on a date with the person in the photographs. The photographs used were prejudged and categorised as either high, medium or low in attractiveness. Two versions of the dating environment were constructed, one for males and the other for females. We recorded the number of positive choices participants made (those with whom they would go on a date) and the time it took them to make such choices. Our participants also responded to an impulsivity scale, scores from which were controlled for in the final analysis (Graff and Welsby, 2018).

We hypothesised that:

  • Males would make more positive choices than females.
  • Physical attractiveness of a potential partner will be more important to males compared to females.
  • Males would make quicker decisions than females.

Number of Choices

Overall, and in support of our first hypothesis, we found that males made more positive choices compared to females and did so across all attractiveness groups. This finding is consistent with evolutionary psychology and partner choice, which propose that males may be less selective in their dating choices because they invest less in their offspring in comparison to females, who stand to risk a lot more, and consequently are more selective.

When we looked at positive choices made about high-attractive, medium-attractive, and low-attractive photographs by males and females separately, we found that females made more positive choices when presented with high-attractive photographs, fewer choices when presented with medium-attractive photographs and fewer still when presented with low-attractiveness photographs. In other words, they seemed to make more prudent choices based on facial attractiveness. Males, on the other hand, made more or less equal numbers of positive choices regardless of level of attractiveness. This is contrary to our second hypothesis, although it lends support to the study of Tyson, Petra, Haddadi and Seto, (2016) who found gender differences in Tinder use whereby males swiped right to more potential dates than did females.

Decision Time

Sumter, Vandenbosch and Ligtenberg (2017) suggest that males are more likely to be looking for casual sex on Tinder than females, and that this may make account for them making quicker decisions. However, when we looked at the time it took participants to make a decision on whether or not they were attracted to the photographs with which they were presented, we found that contrary to our hypothesis, males took longer to make a choice compared to females. One possible reason for this is offered by Zhang and Deng (2012), who explained that the time taken for males to assess the attractiveness of a date might be longer because males value physical attractiveness in a date more than females.

One additional finding was that both males and females took slightly less time to make decisions on the low-attractive photos compared to the medium-attractive and high-attractive ones, although in the current study, this difference was not greater than what might have occurred by chance.

Finally, when we compared those who reported being in a relationship with those who reported not being in a relationship, we found no differences in the number of positive choices made or the time it took participants to make such choices.

One limitation with the current study is that our participants were young (around 21 years) and, as pointed out by Gatter and Hodkinson (2015), younger users of Tinder — and young individuals generally — have more promiscuous dating motives. The findings may have varied had a different age group been employed.

In summary, then, our findings suggest that males seem to take more time to make less prudent decisions in online dating compared with females. This finding just may have implications in terms of whether we are making the right decisions.


Gatter, K., & Hodkinson, K. (2016). ‘On the differences between Tinder versus online dating agencies: Questioning a myth. An exploratory study.’ Cogent Psychology, 3(1), 1162414.

Graff, M. G. & Welsby, E. (2018) 'Who swipes quicker? Gender differences within decision making on online dating apps'. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society Conference, Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK.

Schacht, A., Werheid, K., & Sommer, W. (2008). ‘The appraisal of facial beauty is rapid but not mandatory.’ Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 8(2), 132-142.

Sumter, S. R., Vandenbosch, L., & Ligtenberg, L. (2017). ‘Love me Tinder: Untangling emerging adults’ motivations for using the dating application Tinder.’ Telematics and Informatics, 34(1), 67-78.

Tyson, G., Perta, V. C., Haddadi, H., & Seto, M. C. (2016, August). ‘A first look at user activity on Tinder.’ In Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM), 2016 IEEE/ACM International Conference on (pp. 461-466). IEEE.

Zhang, Z., & Deng, Z. (2012). ‘Gender, facial attractiveness, and early and late event-related potential components.’ Journal of integrative neuroscience, 11(04), 477-487.

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