- Dating app use, preferences, and reasons for using them may be predicted by attachment styles.
- Those with anxious attachment are likely to use Tinder and Plenty of Fish, while avoidant types are more likely to use OkCupid.
- Anxiously attached users are driven to use dating apps to meet people because of a fear of being single.
Attachment styles are well known to predict the ways in which we form relationships with others. For example, those with anxious attachment styles may crave more intimacy with others but also be concerned about rejection, whereas those with avoidant attachment styles may be uneasy with high degrees of intimacy. Because of these differences, it is also likely that dating app use, the preferences for different apps, and the reasons for using them may also be predicted by attachment style.
Researchers Kristi Chin and colleagues set out to address four questions (Chin, Edelstein & Vernon, 2019):
- How is the likelihood of using a dating app related to anxious and avoidant attachment styles?
- How is actual dating app use related to attachment style? For example, anxious individuals might be more favorable, while avoidant types may be less favorable to dating app use.
- How is the type of dating app used related to attachment style?
- How are the reasons for using or not using a dating app related to attachment style?
In their study, they referred to three dating apps—Tinder, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish—and how likely their participants were to use each of these. They also used the attachment styles questionnaire to measure attachment. Finally, they measured the reasons for using these dating apps:
- To meet others (“they can be a way to meet new people”)
- Convenience (“it is easier to weed out people who aren’t a good fit for me”)
- Social (“a lot of people around me are using that app”)
- For fun (“I use dating apps for fun”)
- Sex (“I use dating apps to have sex”)
- Boredom (“I use dating apps to pass the time”)
- Personal anxiety (“I use dating apps because I feel lonely and don’t want to go outside”)
And the researchers also explored the reasons not to use dating apps:
- Trust (“I don’t trust people online”)
- In-person preference (“I would rather meet people in real life”)
- Sex (“I don’t want to use dating apps because people just want to hook up or have sex on dating apps”)
- Unable to use dating apps (“I don’t know how to download or use dating apps”)
- No time (“I don’t have time to use dating apps”)
- Don’t want to meet others (“I am not looking for a relationship”)
Likelihood of dating app use and attachment style
Overall, the researchers found that higher scores on anxious attachment were associated with a greater chance that respondents would report using dating apps. They speculate that those with higher levels of anxious attachment used dating apps to increase their chances of finding a partner while at the same time being protected from rejection. Those scoring high on anxious attachment styles have previously been found to be less selective in their dating strategies to increase their chances of securing a date while at the same time being worried about rejection. Dating apps indicate to the user only those who have expressed an interest in them and not potential dates who have rejected them.
The researchers also found that those who scored higher on avoidant attachment expressed a lower likelihood of wishing to use dating apps and were also unlikely to be dating app users. Previous research has found that those with avoidant attachment styles are likely to anticipate a lack of success in dating, which may then cause them to keep a degree of emotional distance. Therefore, it is their expectation of failure which brings about an aversion to dating apps. Furthermore, those with avoidant attachment styles are less enthusiastic about online communication generally (Oldmeadow, Quinn, & Kowert, 2013).
Dating app use and attachment style
The researchers found that those scoring higher on anxious attachment were more likely to use Tinder and Plenty of Fish, with those scoring higher on avoidant attachment being more likely to use OkCupid and less likely to use Tinder. They state that it is perplexing how avoidant individuals report being less likely to use Tinder (often associated with hookups), especially when avoidant individuals are more likely to engage in casual sex. Perhaps those high in avoidant attachment use OkCupid because it matches them more accurately with others, increasing their chances of securing more successful dates, which makes them feel safer. Furthermore, this ultimately reduces the need for them to connect with too many unnecessary dates.
Reasons for using dating apps and attachment style
The results of this study suggest that those scoring higher on anxious attachment use dating apps "to meet others." Using dating apps may indicate that anxiously attached individuals are more driven to use dating apps to meet people because of a fear of being single. Conversely, those scoring high on avoidant attachment are less likely to report "meeting others" as a reason for using dating apps, which is consistent with their avoidant attachment style.
Dating apps offer a departure from traditional face-to-face dating, affording new ways to meet potential partners, and future research might explore the benefits of dating apps in bringing about a decrease in general relationship anxiety or avoidance when used over time.
Chin, K., Edelstein, R. S., & Vernon, P. A. (2019). Attached to dating apps: Attachment orientations and preferences for dating apps. Mobile Media & Communication, 7(1) 41–59.
Oldmeadow, J. A., Quinn, S., & Kowert, R. (2013). Attachment style, social skills, and Facebook use amongst adults. Computers in Human Behaviour, 29, 1142–1149.