Most are not aware that the popular dating app Tinder has been designed very intentionally to keep its users swiping. Taking advantage of powerful cognitive mechanisms, the app hooks it’s users, planting a seed in their mind that drives them to always come back to the app. A principle known as ‘variable reward’, we keep swiping for the same reason that gamblers keep gambling. Unlike gambling, there are no institutions or regulatory bodies that can protect the vulnerable from the subtle tricks of psychological coercion these apps use to make money. Until these bodies emerge, the best line of defense is understanding. Learn how Tinder is designed to control your mind with Whitestone, an Ottawa sexual addiction clinic.
The Schedule of Variable Reward
Chances are you’ve heard and used the words ‘Positive Reinforcement’ before. Most use the concept on a regular basis, but do not know that the idea was actually invented by a now-legendary psychologist, B.F. Skinner, back in the 1950’s. Creator of the psychological school of thought known as Behaviorism, a science that seeks to understand how we act, among the thousands of pages Skinner contributed to our understanding of the human mind is the idea of a ‘variable schedule of reinforcement’.
When you’re training a dog, rat, Orca whale, or even a child, a funny thing happens when you consistently reward a desired action. It’s great for establishing a given action, but studies show that if a subject continues to be rewarded every time they perform a desired action, the action becomes less consistent and reliable.
Once you’ve taught a subject how to perform the action, they will come to trust that they are the ones controlling reward. Switching to an inconsistent schedule of reinforcement changes this. No longer can a subject predict reliably when a desired reward is coming, and the tension of not knowing causes them to devote more of their attention to the task of securing reward.
Sitting down at a slot machine wouldn’t be very fun if we knew that every time we put coins in and pulled the handle, we’d win a small prize. Because we don’t know either when a reward is coming, nor how big that reward is going to be, sitting at the slots can be euphoric! As the numbers and symbols line up, tension rises within us, and heart rate accelerates. Most of the time we lose, suffering minor bad feelings, which we proceed to deal with by pulling the handle again! When we get that one big win, we experience a rush that is in no way dis-similar from those we get from drugs. Some of us fall into the trap of endlessly chasing this ‘first high’, and establish a gambling addiction.
How Tinder Tries to Controls Your Behavior
If you’ve used Tinder, chances are you’ve become aware of a peculiar pattern.
You enter the app for the first swipes of the day, and almost right away get a series of matches. Perhaps not all your first right-swipes end up matching, but many of them do. Think about when you get the most of a days matches, you’ll likely realize that the grand majority are within the first 10-25 right-swipes of your allotted free-swipes in a 12 hour period.
This is no coincidence. Tinder knows which users you’ve yet to match that have right-swiped you, and will present them to you right away. Tinder wants to ensure that users experience immediate reward, not only to reinforce the behavior of opening the app, but to establish the days first ‘high’. When we see someone we find attractive, and match with them, we’re given the validation that they find us attractive as well. When we get 3-5 of these experiences in a short time period, it’s tremendously validating! We want more of these matches if we can get them, so we proceed to furiously swipe away, only to find that our matches seem to have ‘dried up’.
Tinder uses a consistent reinforcement schedule to get us onto the app, as we are learn that we can consistently get matches with the days first swipes. Once we’re on the app, Tinder wants us to stay on the app, and so will switch to an inconsistent reward schedule. If every swipe got a match, we’d get bored quick, so Tinder algorithms will proceed to place those who have right-swiped us further and further apart. We get stuck in a chase for that endorphin rush until we hit our match limit, and can’t swipe anymore, unless we spend money.
How to Beat Tinder
Just like gambling and drinking isn’t in-and-of-itself a bad thing, there’s nothing wrong with using and enjoying the Tinder app responsibly. That said, Tinder is designed to coerce behavior without our knowledge, and the public has yet to be adequately educated on just how, and how well, their methods work. There isn’t really an understanding of exactly what constitutes irresponsible Tinder use, and so most that use the app unhealthily are simply unaware of the fact that they are likely addicted.
If you find yourself mindlessly swiping, making judgement’s concerning the ‘swipe-worthiness’ of the profiles before you even know you’ve made them, chances are you’ve fallen into Tinder’s trap. Making decisions without thinking about them rationally is an indication that your behavior is not the result of your conscious choice, but rather psychological conditioning. By swiping without thinking, we believe that our actions are motivated out of a desire to meet and socialize with our matches, but the science of Behaviorism tells us that our behavior is not our choice, but rather the product of conditioning via variable reinforcement.
It’s important to establish an awareness of how Tinder seeks to establish control over your behavior to ensure that your decisions and actions are always yours. Learning is the first and most powerful means to protect yourself and those around you from the morally dubious methods of psychological manipulation they practice to extract value from users. Until institutions materialize to regulate these practices, your best defense is knowledge and Whitestone.