A study finds that social anxiety and depression lead to a greater use of dating apps and affect what people hope to gain from them.

Pew Research Center data released in February this year indicate that, in the United States, as many as 30% of adults have used a dating site or app.

According to a Statista survey, in the first quarter of 2020, Tinder, the most popular of these apps, had more than 6 million subscribers.

There are numerous reasons for using a dating app. Now, a new study from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, looks specifically at the link between social anxiety, depression, and dating apps.

According to this research, there is a link between social anxiety and depression and a more extensive use of dating apps.

“With increased symptoms of social anxiety and depression, women may be even more likely to turn to technology for social connection, especially if alternative forms of social contact are reduced due to social avoidance.”

– Senior author Martin Antony, from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada

The study appears in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Previous research suggests there are six things people who use Tinder hope to attain. These “Tinder motives” are:

  • love
  • casual sex
  • ease of communication
  • self-worth validation
  • thrill of excitement
  • trendiness

The prevailing theory tested in the new research is the positive link between social anxiety and depression with a greater use of dating apps. In addition, the researchers predicted positive associations between social anxiety and depression and a desire for:

  • ease of communication for men, due to the anxiety associated with asking potential partners for a date, traditionally perceived as a male responsibility
  • love, equally for both genders
  • self-worth validation, equally for both genders
  • the thrill of excitement, especially for men
  • casual sex, especially for men

The study authors also predicted a negative association between social anxiety, depression, and contacting dating app matches equally for both genders.

A total of 374 individuals who use dating apps were recruited for the study and responded to questions posed through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.

There were no inclusion or exclusion criteria, and each person received $1 for taking part in the study.

The researchers asked participants to fill out the 17-question Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), in which a person describes the anxiety they have experienced in social situations over the past week. Researchers recognize the SPIN survey for its usefulness as a psychometric measure.

In addition, individuals completed the equally well-regarded 21-question Depression Anxiety Stress Scales survey for measuring anxiety, depression symptoms, and stress.

Participants also completed the Tinder Motives Scale survey that tracked the importance of five of the six Tinder motives to the individual. The research team did not include trendiness because they considered the survey ineffective for measuring its significance.

The scientists measured individuals’ use of dating apps through the Online Dating Inventory questionnaire to assess their use and behavior.

The researchers found that social anxiety and depression are not interchangeable, and were variously linked, or not, with different motives for using dating apps.

The researchers’ general hypothesis was deemed correct: social anxiety and depression do appear to be associated with greater dating app use. Beyond that, the authors of the study drew a variety of conclusions.

They found that:

  • Social anxiety and depression are associated with the use of dating apps for ease of communication by both genders, though the effect is more pronounced for women.
  • Women with social anxiety are more likely to be interested in obtaining love through dating apps. Depression did not affect whether people were looking for this, for either men or women.
  • Dating apps are used for self-worth validation by people of both genders with social anxiety. This was also true of people with depression, with a stronger effect in women than men.
  • Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, there was a positive link between social anxiety and the thrill of excitement for women, though not for women living with depression, and not for men.
  • There was an association between social anxiety in men and women with an effort to obtain casual sex. This was also true in people living with depression, with a stronger effect in women.

The researchers also discovered a negative correlation between social anxiety and depression in men and the likelihood that they would actually contact a person who turned out to be a match. The likelihood a woman would initiate contact was not affected at all by their level of depression.

The study authors point out that they cannot know whether social anxiety and depression lead to greater dating app use or the other way around, suggesting this open question would benefit from further research.