Which Dating Apps Appeal to Dark Personalities?

Shedding light on the online dating practices of the Dark Tetrad

Posted Aug 16, 2020

Online dating is universal and ubiquitous. But the qualities of the characters you meet may depend on the online platforms you use. One genre of potential candidates you probably don’t want to meet are people who are high on the so-called Dark Tetrad traits. Research sheds some light on what sites they use. 

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Source: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Browsers Beware

Minna Lyons et al. (2020) explored which dating apps appealed to people with elevated levels of Dark Tetrad traits.[i] They begin by defining the Dark Tetrad as four inter-related personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and sadism. They note that common denominators of the four characteristics include callousness and low levels of empathy.

They also point out that each of the traits has unique components. Narcissists feel a sense of entitlement and superiority, Machiavellianism may be characterized as involving what they describe as “scheming long-term manipulative strategizing,” psychopaths engage in anti-social behavior and coldness, and sadism is described as behaving with cruelty, and taking pleasure in hurting others. Regarding the relationship to the Big Five personality traits, Lyons et al. explain that as a constellation, the Dark Tetrad is linked with low levels of agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness

If you are looking for a relationship, these are not the people you hope to meet online. Yet there is no guarantee you will recognize these toxic traits through viewing a (no doubt carefully manipulated) photo or engaging in superficial conversation. These characters are dark but smart, so you want to know more. Lyons et al. provide us with more information, exploring how these “socially malevolent personality” traits predict using the Internet in pursuit of mating goals.

Dark Traits on Tinder

Although no doubt dark personalities use a variety of dating apps, Lyons et al. found that the dating app Tinder was commonly used by dark personalities. They point out that location-based on-line dating apps (like Tinder) can be used to initiate quick relationships, and Tinder makes it easy to communicate and meet up with others who live nearby.

To be fair, Lyons et al. recognize that although Tinder is often perceived as a casual sex hook-up application, it can also facilitate long-term relationships and friendships. In fact, they even acknowledge research that shows that beyond relational development, some people use Tinder for self-validation, thrill-seeking, in response to peer pressure, or merely to pass the time.

Regarding the reasons people with relatively high Dark Tetrad trait measures use Tinder, however, Lyons et al. made some interesting discoveries.

The Dark Tetrad on Tinder

Lyons et al. note that in relationships, Dark Tetrad individuals prefer short-term relationships with low levels of commitment—which they note is consistent with prior research suggesting that people with high levels of Machiavellianism and psychopathy, for example, are most interested in using Tinder for having casual sex while they are already in a relationship.

In their research, Lyons et al. found that using Tinder to gain sexual experience was linked with being high in psychopathy and male. Psychopathy itself also predicted Tinder use as a method of distraction, often related to procrastination. They found that Machiavellianism and being female were related to using Tinder as a result of peer pressure, and using Tinder to gain social or flirting skills was negatively related to narcissism and positively related to Machiavellianism. They opine that people high in narcissism may already perceive themselves as socially desirable, and have no need to practice flirting.

Lyons et al. found that Machiavellianism positively predicted using Tinder both for social approval—to gain validation about one’s own attractiveness, for example, and also to pass time. They note this is consistent with prior research that finds Machiavellianism to be linked with using social media for self-presentation and impression management. Accordingly, they note that people high in Machiavellianism apparently use Tinder for utilitarian reasons, while people high in psychopathy use it primarily to facilitate hooking up for casual sex. Lyons et al. found that sadism did not predict Tinder use.

Dating Apps For Healthy Relationships

Shedding light on dating apps preferred by dark personalities is only one step to smart cyber-socializing. Taking the time to build connections slowly over time is a wise investment in the long run, with the goal of creating healthy, happy relationships.


[i] Lyons, Minna, Ashleigh Messenger, Rebecca Perry, and Gayle Brewer. 2020. “The Dark Tetrad in Tinder: Hook-up App for High Psychopathy Individuals, and a Diverse Utilitarian Tool for Machiavellians?” Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, January. doi:10.1007/s12144-019-00589-z.