People who experience social anxiety and depression are more likely to use dating apps – but there’s a twist.
Males in this category are less likely to initiate contact with a potential match identified by the app, according to a Canadian study. So even though they use the apps freely, this might fail to translate into actual social interaction.
“If so, they could be exposing themselves to the potential negative consequences of dating app use without reaping the purported benefits,” says Ariella Lenton-Brym, from Ryerson University.
There is, of course, a basic conundrum. Being in an intimate relationship can help socially anxious individuals come out of their shells, but asking someone out can be a daunting prospect.
Dating apps offer the chance to kick things off online – and a big pool of potential partners – but also have their downsides.
Lenton-Brym and colleagues set out to explore links between dating app use, social anxiety and depression.
They recruited 374 volunteers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to complete online questionnaires assessing symptoms of social anxiety and depression and engagement with dating apps and other users. They also explored motivations for using the apps.
Previous work had found that people have different motivations for using the Tinder dating app – love, casual sex, ease of communication, self-worth validation, thrill of excitement and trendiness – and it’s not surprising that these vary between men and women.
While others have found that men were more likely to embrace ease of communication, thrill of excitement and casual sex, Lenton-Brym and team only found a gender difference for casual sex in their sample.
Investigating further, they found strong associations between motivations and mental health in female users.
Women reported links between social anxiety and love, thrill of excitement and casual sex, and stronger connections between depressive symptoms and ease of communication, self-worth validation, thrill of excitement and casual sex.
Overall, the authors hasten to note that the findings are correlational.
Therefore, they write, “we cannot determine whether individuals with elevated symptoms of [social anxiety] and depression are more likely to use [dating apps], or if individuals become more socially anxious and depressed as a consequence of their [dating app] use.”
The paper is published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking.
Natalie Parletta is a freelance science writer based in Adelaide and an adjunct senior research fellow with the University of South Australia.
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