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Swipe Right for a Dopamine Deluge: The Chemistry Behind Dating Apps

In today’s digital world, there is a plethora of options when it comes to finding love or companionship. It truly is as simple as swiping your finger across a screen.

Binary code in white with a black background and depicting a red love heart in the centre of the page

Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble and POF have revolutionised the way we connect with mates, offering a seamlessly endless pool of potential partners at our fingertips. One study claims that one-third of marriages begin online. But do we stop to think about why these apps are so addictive? Why do we find ourselves sitting in front of the TV not actually watching the program and instead swiping away, eagerly awaiting the next match or message? Well, the answer lies within our brain chemistry, more specifically a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Prepare to dive into how dopamine hooks us into the captivating realm of dating apps thus creating a perfect storm of pleasure, anticipation and often, unfulfilment.

How do dating apps affect dopamine?

Consider this: as humans, we have an innate drive to find a partner. This drive has been ingrained in us through evolution - our ancestors who failed to find a mate did not pass on their traits. As a result, long-term pair bonding is deeply rooted in our biology as a primal instinct.

So, what is the connection between dopamine and dating? Helen Fisher, the chief scientific advisor for, delves into the science behind it.

“Dating is the highway to romance then attachment and reproduction, your chance to get your genes into the next generation. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gives you energy, focus, craving, and alertness”.

Person holding up a smartphone showing a dating app match connection with somebody else

Having energy, focus and craving motivates us to find a mate. Primal drives, such as hunger, thirst and sex are all controlled by dopamine, once the reward pathway is activated, we want to experience pleasure again and again.

Many of us experience an adrenaline rush when we engage in activities with a reward system, such as playing slot machines or blackjack. Our belief in winning increases the longer we play. Similarly, dating apps like Tinder provide occasional dopamine hits when we receive a match or a message. We continue to swipe, hoping that the more we do it, the better our chances are of finding a mate.

Dr David Greenfield suggests that dating apps heighten our brain's chemical reactions:

"Opening the app to see what you've got is a compulsion, as you never know who will respond or when they will respond."

The key concept here is that our brains are flooded with dopamine when we anticipate a reward, and dating apps make it seem like there are endless matches to be made. This is why we feel driven to search for that one perfect match continuously.

Mental Health Impacts

Research suggests that using dating apps too frequently can lead to negative effects on our emotional well-being, such as increased anxiety, low self-esteem, and body image. The constant swiping, superficial connections, and ghosting can fuel feelings of rejection and social comparison, which can be detrimental to users' mental health. Furthermore, the addictive nature of these apps can intensify feelings of depression and isolation. In summary, remember that dating apps affect dopamine levels, so it's important to keep a balanced perspective and prioritize self-care while using them. Although it can be fun and exciting, take a break if your mental health declines. Go out and spend time with loved ones or engage in enjoyable activities to rejuvenate yourself. Remember to take care of yourself first.

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