In the 21st century, the chances of encountering fairy-tale romances are rare. That cute guy or girl you locked eyes with at the bar the other day fades into a distant memory as we become less likely to initiate contact with strangers.
This attitude can be explained through understanding the conduct of the conscious brain. This conscious brain is on the constant lookout for threats or a new focus of attention. Approaching someone you are interested in, becomes troublesome to navigate in a new territory of uncertainty. Your brain begins imagining a multitude of possible ways things could go wrong. Without the guidance of technology, human contact can be a daunting initiative. This is where dating apps enter.
The prime aim of dating apps is to bring together two strangers in the age of disconnect by pooling them on a basis of availability. This way, a market for singles looking to form a relationship is created. However, dating apps are designed in a manner to aid the human mind, which doesn’t function as smoothly as a neo-classical market. Dating apps have been reported to be a highly unsatisfying experience for many due to the room for bad decision making it allows. Dan Ariely accurately nails down the failures of dating apps in an interview at Google. To better understand the significance of his insights on the failures of online dating, it is essential to see why we are prone to make bad decisions in the online dating market, through the concept of ‘cognitive ease’
As proposed by Daniel Kahneman (in his book Thinking Fast and Slow)we can split the mind in two systems, System 1 (fast, automatic, unconscious) and System 2 (detailed, slower, conscious, lazy). The design of dating apps allows for system 1 to take over most of the decision-making process as it allows for ‘cognitive ease’ rather than ‘strain’. Each of the points discussed below allow for cognitive ease to flow, which is signified by sense of familiarity and goodness. This is when the decisions made by the individual are more inspired and carefree with a higher chance of decision-making error.
- Decoy Effect: For those who are familiar with how dating apps work, you may often find yourself surprised when you are matched with someone you don’t recall swiping right on. The frequency of such cases can be explained by the decoy effect. A choice is made more attractive by placing a less attractive option before it. This, then raises the value of the initial option. In this way, a present match could appear more attractive to you if the preceding match was not your type. Cognitive ease is what makes you swipe right on the antecedent. The clear display of the options available to you make the decoy effect stand out more. Since clear display is an engager of cognitive ease, you decide to immediately swipe right, without a thought about the error in your better judgement.
- Heuristics: Dating apps implement profiles with pictures and a bio to help condense the best aspects of a person’s personality and help them find a match. This decision-making process is limited to a simple swipe of the thumb, while the weight of the decision to pick a potential date is daunting in contrast. To bridge the gap between the two, heuristics step in. When dealing with such heavyweight questions, the brain tends to answer a smaller set of questions known as heuristics. In context to dating apps, a witty opener could signal to the brain that this person could cheer me up when I down while broad shoulders could signal dependability. An interesting and thorough profile is enough to convince your mind that this person might just be ‘the perfect partner’ by filling in the gaps missing from their profile to suit your primed idea of one. Primed ideas are another enabler of cognitive ease. Once all the gaps have been filled, the profile in front of you feels familiar and true and hence, you swipe right.
- Loss Aversion: One of the key issues with relationships developed through an online platform is the lack of investment people devote in developing an intimate relationship. This fact can be attributed to loss aversion. This is the principle that people are more biased towards avoiding losses than gaining equivalent gains. With the number of options available to people, they face a trade-off between investing time and effort to get to know one match intimately (what one could gain) and keeping themselves available to any potential new matches (missing out from dating pool). Consequently, people choose to invest less effort to familiarize themselves with one match in order to preserve availability, which ultimately leads to both parties to have an unsatisfying experience. Additionally, people are forced to move out of a state of cognitive ease. Allowing themselves to explore uncharted territories of another’s personality and life, does not feel familiar or even pleasant to many. Hence, people choose to go for what they know is easy by returning to these dating apps and the cycle of frustration is prolonged.
By writing this piece, I wish to show people the errors in judgment they could possibly make while using dating apps, which are not inherently bad. Understanding the mistakes, one could make in the slippery road of dating in the 21st century could be the first step for many individuals to understand what it is they are truly seeking both from themselves and their potential partners.