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Social Anxiety and Depression Linked to Dating App Usage, Study Finds

A white man with facial hair lies in bed looking at his smart phone screen.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found a positive association between symptoms of anxiety and depression and the extent of dating app use.
  • The research adds more context to our relationship with online dating applications and social media platforms, which are becoming increasingly linked with poorer mental health outcomes.

People who frequently use dating apps might have more symptoms of social anxiety and depression, a new study found.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, the study evaluated the relationship between social anxiety, depression, and dating app use.

"This study is the first to empirically demonstrate a positive correlation between dating app use and symptoms of social anxiety and depression," says Ariella Lenton-Brym, a PhD student in clinical psychology at Ryerson University. Though she notes that, "since our findings are cross-sectional, it’s important to note that we cannot make any causal conclusions about the relationships between these variables."

The Study's Findings

The study evaluated online surveys that examined psychopathology and dating app use among 374 people. The most exciting findings were, first, "social anxiety and depression symptoms were positively associated with the extent of participants’ dating app use," Lenton-Brym says. Second, the study also found that among men, "symptoms of social anxiety and depression predicted a lower likelihood of initiating contact with a dating app match," she says.

"This means that despite socially anxious/depressed men using dating apps frequently, they might fail to translate this frequent dating app use into actual social interaction," Lenton-Brym says.

Ariella Lenton-Brym, PhD student

Despite socially anxious/depressed men using dating apps frequently, they might fail to translate this frequent dating app use into actual social interaction.

— Ariella Lenton-Brym, PhD student

The discovery about men was particularly interesting, she says, and speaks to a broader question: Do people who are highly socially anxious/depressed reap less of the "social benefits" offered by dating apps even though they use dating apps more than less anxious people? "If so, are they needlessly exposing themselves to the potentially harmful consequences of dating app use?" Lenton-Brym says. "Our study doesn’t answer this last question, but I hope to explore it more in the future."

The data found that women were unlikely to initiate contact with a dating app match even when they had low levels of social anxiety and depression. "In other words, there was a floor effect: since the likelihood of women initiating contact was already low, it couldn’t get any lower as symptoms of social anxiety and/or depression increased in our sample," Lenton-Brym says.

The study also noted that past research has found that women use technology for social communication more than men. "With increased symptoms of SA 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," researchers wrote.

The study stressed that it only found a pattern of positive association between symptoms of social anxiety/depression and dating app use. Researchers could not determine whether people with more symptoms of social anxiety and/or depression are more likely to use dating apps. They also didn't find causal evidence that people become more socially anxious as a result of their dating app use.

Why Might Dating App Use Be Connected To Anxiety And Depression?

Though the study didn't establish a causal relationship, dating app use can contribute to anxiety and depression, says Soltana Nosrati, LCSW, a social worker at Novant Health.

"If you go to a bar, and you notice a guy, and you think he's hot, and you're looking at him, and he kind of ignores you, it's one rejection," she explains. But with dating apps, you see dozens of people, and you only "match" with those people whose profiles you like who also like you. If you never match with the people you like, "it can feel like continuous rejection," she says. "Folks that will perceive themselves as being rejected are far more likely to feel anxious or depressed when they're on these apps."

Dating apps can also hurt people's self-esteem if they take the rejection or lack of matches personally. "Allowing this external website with complete strangers to decide your value is a mistake," Nosrati says. "If you kind of look at these websites as a way to kind of get to know a bunch of different people from different backgrounds, and that this doesn't necessarily reflect on you as a person, you're far less likely to be impacted."

Soltana Nosrati, LCSW

If you kind of look at these websites as a way to kind of get to know a bunch of different people from different backgrounds, and that this doesn't necessarily reflect on you as a person, you're far less likely to be impacted.

— Soltana Nosrati, LCSW

She says apps aren't inherently bad, and that they are allowing a lot of people to safely meet and interact with others during the COVID-19 pandemic. But she suggests that dating app users, especially those with social anxiety or depression, use the app as a way to "fine tune your strengths and work on your weaknesses."

"So if you're not comfortable meeting people, going on a bunch of blind dates is a good idea to kind of get used to the idea of meeting people," she says. "Instead of looking at this app as a solution for relationships, have fun with it. The more fun you have with it, and the less pressure you put on yourself, the easier it'll be."

What This Means For You

If you struggle with social anxiety or depression, be intentional about your dating app use. Soltana notes that, in the absence of an app, you might go out to a bar to meet people. But you wouldn't go to the bar every single night. You might go once a week, or a few times a month. Treat your dating app use similarly.

Try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes a day swiping or looking for new matches on an app. If the app is causing you more anxiety or preventing you from doing other things you love, then that's also a sign that your use might not be healthy.

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Article Sources
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  1. Lenton-Brym AP, Santiago VA, Fredborg BK, Antony MM. Associations between social anxiety, depression, and use of mobile dating applications [published online ahead of print, 2020 Oct 12]Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2020;10.1089/cyber.2019.0561. doi:10.1089/cyber.2019.0561

  2. Weiser EB. Gender differences in internet use patterns and internet application preferences: A two-sample comparison. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2000;3(2):167-178.