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You Are How You Swipe: Tinder Experiment Proves that We Are All Judgmental

You Are How You Swipe: Tinder Experiment Proves that We Are All Judgmental

You Are How You Swipe: Tinder Experiment Proves that We Are All Judgmental

What matters more than attraction?

Anne Helen Petersen over at Buzzfeed recently had the brilliant idea to create a Tinder simulation and find out the psychological underpinnings that are at work when we swipe left and right.  She compiled 60 stock photos of both men and women and divided the users by sexual preference instead of gender.  She then had them use her fake Tinder and each time they swiped, they were prompted to explain, anonymously and honestly (the only information they gave was race and sexuality), why they chose to swipe the way they did.  And the results are fascinating.  As she explains:

"We swipe, in other words, because of semiotics.“Semiotics” is, quite simply, the study of signs…But signs aren’t always static in their meaning — it’s all about context. Wearing a camouflage jacket can mean that you’re in the military, a hunter, a punk, a redneck, a misogynist; having a shaved head, as a girl, can connote that you’re a radical, a cancer survivor, or a lesbian."

As much as we don't want to believe that we operate on such basic, judgmental levels, the fact remains that overwhelmingly we use visual markers to make assumptions about class, race, education level, and religion when choosing potential mates.  Tinder is unique in that it gives none of this information up front (like Ok Cupid or Match), so instead of being able to self-report our interests, goals, preferences, etc., we are only able to choose six of what we perceive to be our best photos and maybe a sentence and a couple emojis, and throw them out to the world hoping to attract the right match.  Then as we browse through other photos, we unconsciously assign all of these embedded snap judgments to the people who pop up and decide whether or not we want to take the conversation further.  

I already wrote about the 11 types of lesbians on Tinder, and am fully admitting that I make these kinds of judgements too.  As uncomfortable as it is to admit, most, if not all, people have certain races, religions, body types, gender presentations, and education levels that they are simply not attracted to or do not want to date.  The comment that Petersen made about how shaved heads connote lesbianism rings especially true in our universe.  I got rid of my Tinder (needed a break), but when I was on there I would try to decide if the girls I was browsing looked too "straight" and though that didn't usually deter me from swiping right if I thought they were pretty, it was my way of mentally preparing myself in case she turned out to be a girl who was on there to experiment and didn't want to actually date a woman.  Talk about hypocrisy!  Ever since coming out I have been dealing with the side effects of reading as straight to the wider world and here I am applying the very same stereotyping to Tinder.

In all honesty, these kinds of judgments that people make (according to the experiment the most overwhelming determining factor is perceived social class, for example) are essential in finding what each person believes will be the most successful partner.  One positive note of the experiment is that the most swipeable male and female were both black or mixed race (the main girl in this story's photo was the most-swiped female)--showing a hopeful shift in what people consider attractiveness away from the all-white model of the not-so-recent past.  It's kind of horrible that people operate on this level, but it also makes a lot of sense (and explains a lot of the bullshit you see on the news everyday).  I'm not saying it's a good thing--but it is a real thing--and something that we should all probably start owning up to if we are to make any progress against such types of judgmental behavior in society.     



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Katie Boyden