Swiping left or right: What governs selecting potential partners online? What researchers found out

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  • Online dating platforms have become increasingly popular in recent years
  • There is, however, not much research available on how people interact on such platforms
  • Recent research shows that connections on these platforms are mostly based on appearance and race

Online dating websites have become increasingly popular in recent years, and they have also changed the dating scene tremendously. 

According to William Chopik, an associate professor in the Michigan State University Department of Psychology, there is, however, only limited research available on how people interact on such platforms. 

“Despite online dating becoming an increasingly popular way for people to meet one another, there is little research on how people connect with each other on these platforms,” Chopik said. “We wanted to understand what makes someone want to swipe left or swipe right, and the process behind how they make those decisions.”

Chopik and colleague, Dr David Johnson from the University of Maryland, conducted research examining what compels people to “swipe right” (accept) or “swipe left” (reject) other users of dating platforms. Findings were published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Attraction based on personality or appearance?

The research relied on two studies to determine how people interact on dating apps: the first study involved college students and the second focused on adults with an average age of 35 years.

Participants were given the option to view the profiles of men or women, depending on their preference.

The researchers observed that on average, male participants would swipe right or accept online users more than women, and also that individuals who thought of themselves as more attractive were pickier when it came to selecting partners and swiped left more often. 

“It's extremely eye-opening that people are willing to make decisions about whether or not they would like to get to another human being, in less than a second, and based almost solely on the other person's looks,” Chopik said. 

Rejecting people of colour

Another shocking finding the researchers made was how race was also seen as a deciding factor for participants accepting or rejecting users. Profiles belonging to people of colour were rejected more than white users and participants were more likely to swipe right for users of their own race.

 “The disparities were rather shocking,” Chopik said. “Profiles of Black users were rejected more often than white users, highlighting another way people of colour face bias in everyday life.

“Also surprising was just how little everything beyond attractiveness and race mattered for swiping behaviour – your personality didn't seem to matter, how open you were to hook-ups didn't matter, or even your style for how you approach relationships or if you were looking short- or long-term didn't matter.”

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