Self-Esteem as Mediator Between Social Dating Use and Well-Being in Men
Online dating is a commonly used product in modern, industrialized societies. The market leader Tinder is present in almost 200 countries and has 10 million daily users. While research about the use of social media has been an ongoing process over the last two decades, little is known about the use of social dating and its long-term effects. This paper aims to provide sufficient knowledge on the possible link between Tinder use, self-esteem, and well-being in men. The main findings could support the current literature on the complexity of this topic and the influence of multiple factors using online dating. However, self-esteem is a reoccurring variable in different studies. Also, this paper could show the relationship between self-esteem on Tinder use and well-being. Overall, self-esteem enhancement seems to be a predictor of social dating use.
Self-Esteem as Mediator Between Social Dating Use and Well-Being in Men
Social media use is part of a growing phenomenon, affecting the majority of the population all over the planet, with 68% of adults in the United States using at least one platform (such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat). Numerous users check it daily (Smith & Anderson, 2018). While some social media platforms have an integrated dating function (e.g., Facebook), other platforms concentrate only on providing dating services online, further called social dating. The leading online dating application for social dating is Tinder, with 10 million daily users (LeFebvre, 2017). Research on the usage of this service has an increasing relevance since one-third of US marriages result from people meeting on online dating sites (Orosz et al., 2018).
Mainly over the last two decades, multiple studies have addressed the problematic use of social media and mental health. Many questions have been raised since Facebook, and Instagram usage correlates positively with symptoms of depression. Facebook users show greater loneliness, lower self-esteem, and a disturbed body image than Instagram users (Hunt et al., 2018). Twenge et al. (2017) could show that time spent on-screen activities were significantly correlated with more depressive symptoms and signs of suicidal thoughts. In that sense, Pantic (2014) concluded that social media interacts with individuals’ lives and changes how individuals relate to each other in the present time. Social interactions are more shallow, and there is less communication with family members (Pantic 2014).
At the same time, online dating has become more popular while the impact on well-being is still unclear. A few groups started to see online dating as a separate research field. The overlapping phenomena of social media use and online dating are often similar and hard to separate. Up to now, little is known about the extended use of online dating except higher scores on smartphone addiction (Bonilla-Zorita et al., 2020). But the research on social dating might be of great interest since online communication, especially online harassing messages (DelGreco & Denes, 2019) and cyber-bullying (Cenat et al., 2014), have been linked to mental, physical, and psychological issues.
One of the reoccurring variables is the influence on self-esteem in this correlation and the potential function as a mediator. Self-esteem is the individual’s appraisal of their values, own worth, and abilities. It is a subjective evaluation of the own skills than an objective measurement of the talents and accomplishments (Leary & Baumeister, 2000). Using Facebook to meet a romantic partner was correlated with low self-esteem (Stanculescu & Griffiths, 2021). In contrast, high self-esteem and online dating are associated with higher levels of self-acceptance (Fullwood & Attrill-Smith, 2018). Yet, the literature doesn’t sufficiently support the relation between self-esteem and online dating usage and will be the primary variable investigated in this paper.
A few studies highlighted a potential gender difference between the general use of social media and dating, men are more influenced by sexual online content (Wery et al., 2020) and men use Tinder for different purposes (Sevi, 2018). This paper will try to focus on the differences in gender regarding online dating usage. To close the open gap of literature, this report will address the following research question: “How does the use of social dating influence the self-esteem and well-being in men?“
Men Show Increased Social Dating Use While Women are More Addicted to Social Media
The general literature uses online dating and Tinder often interchangeably, while some studies concentrate solely on Tinder. To exclude potential variations, the study of Gatter and Hodkinson (2016) identified differences between Tinder and other online dating agencies. Tinder has the vast majority (38%) of young users, ranging from 16 to 24years. The age difference might be due to a general decline in age on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (Kezer et al., 2016). Also, older Tinder users were slightly more prone to find casual sex partners (Orosz et al., 2018). Gatter and Hodkinson (2016) could show that more men use any dating program to find dates. On the other contrary, Andreassen (2015) could show that the addictive use of social media is linked to women compared to men. Another study is in line with this finding; women were more likely to use Tinder to find “true love,” and men use the platform to find casual sex (Orosz et al., 2018). Both studies were based on reliable methods and statistical power. Since they are the first attempt to address this complicated topic, more research about the long-time effects is necessary.
Regarding Tinder, higher levels of trait psychopathy are seen in users seeking a committed relationship, higher levels of trait psychopathy and narcissism are correlated to sexual experience use. (Duncan & March 2019). This tendency could be supported by multiple studies on social media use and personality (Andreassen et al.,2017, Kircaburun et al., 2019, March and McBean, 2018). Women score higher on social media addiction, men rank higher on the Dark triad traits and narcissism using social media platforms.
Furthermore, Tinder and casual sex has been linked to individual scores of low sexual disgust sensitivity and high sociosexuality (Sevi, 2019). This study didn’t test particularly on gender differences and had a relatively minor participant number, only resulting from a convenient sample. The same research group conducted a similar study and defined Tinder users as risk-takers. Also here, further research is recommended to confirm the overall findings. In conclusion, based on personality traits, people who are single, sensation-seeker, risk-taker, a young adult, rank high in psychopathy and narcissism should be careful with online-dating usage. Also, men who use Tinder rank higher in the Dark-triad and look for casual sex, while women are more prone to be social media addicted.
The Problematic Use of Online Dating
“Short-term gratification on dating apps can reinforce the appearance of dysfunctional coping styles to deal with unpleasant emotions (e.g., sadness, frustration, and anger) and dysfunctional affective and cognitive responses concerning dating apps (e.g., craving, urge for mood regulation, and attentional bias).ˮ (Bonilla-Zorita et al., 2020, p. 2246) This statement was published in one of the first reviews in the field of problematic use of online dating and highlights the effects of online dating and well-being. The researcher summarized the problematic use with an increase in excessive use and the resulting problems of dysfunctional coping mechanisms, low self-esteem, social anxiety, lower conscientiousness, higher sensation-seeking and anxious attachment. Other troubling symptoms were found, such as depressive symptoms and sleep disturbances.
Orosz et al. (2018) could show that the problematic use of Tinder, the largest online dating platform, was significantly driven by self-esteem enhancement. Agreeableness and neuroticism showed week relation with Tinder use. Interestingly, the group highlights a positive link between extraversion and boredom-motivated Tinder use. In other words, extraverted people used Tinder to provide mental stimulation. The study shows that people who are emotionally stable and able to deal with stress are less likely to use Tinder for self-esteem enhancement or casual sex.
Another research group investigated the impact of online dating, cyberstalking, cybersex, and pornography on mental health (Gopalan et al., 2019) and criticized the low amount of research in that field. They could show that problematic use of online dating often comes in combination with pornography. Also, Borgogna (2019) highlighted the complex correlation between social media, pornography, and masculine norms. Some of these norms support having multiple sex partners, multiple relationships and might influence the online-dating behavior. The study could show the correlation of masculine norms with the sexual objectification of women, tendency to dominate women and a positive correlation with aggressive behavior.
All in all, studies show that the problematic use of social resources is due a lack of conscientiousness, low self-esteem, anxious attachment and problem in coping styles. Men with high self-esteem, low traditional male norms had less problematic use, a positive self-view, and fewer insecurities. The Study of Bonilla-Zorita et al. (2020) and Orosz et al. (2018) didn’t focus on the differentiation of gender. The only difference; men use online dating platforms more often than women (Bonilla-Zorita et al., 2020).
Using Online Dating to Boost Self-Esteem
Multiple studies have raised the question about the correlation between online dating use and the influence on self-esteem (Orosz et al., 2018). The current literature does not support the stereotype-based belief that users with low self-esteem mainly use online dating. Still, there is not a clear answer to date. Previous studies described a strong association between low self-esteem and problematic online usage. (e.g., Armstrong et al., 2000; Yang & Tung, 2007). Orosz et al. (2018) could support this claim regarding the use of Tinder. Self-esteem enhancing plays an important role. People enhance their self-esteem via Tinder if they are reportedly emotionally less stable and more unfriendly. Based on Valkenburg and Peter’s (2007) social compensation hypothesis, Orosz et al. (2018) suggest that people with low self-esteem date less in real-life situations and are more prone to online dating. “Building on this theory, we may assume that low self-esteem individuals can use Tinder more frequently than high self-esteem individuals that allow them to develop stronger self-esteem enhancing Tinder use motivation, which, in turn, can result in higher levels of problematic Tinder use.“ (Orosz et al., 2018, p. 307).
Two independent studies support a difference of self-esteem and the usage of social media and dating (Brailovskaia & Margraf, 2016; Fullwood & Attril-Smith, 2018). Low self-esteem has a higher likelihood of enhancing pictures with software, using specific poses, self-promotion and untaging from inappropriate pictures. Users spend overall more time on social media and use more attractive images. Fullwood and Attril-Smith (2018) suggested when people with low self-esteem consider romantic relationship as very important to themselves, they might not use online dating at all. This might function as an avoidance strategy to an otherwise uncomfortable situation to them. In contrary, high self-esteem participants shows higher rates in self-acceptance and portray an accurate image of themselves in social media and dating. They post more accurate, non-manipulated pictures and display an increased number of online friends. One limitation of this study regards a potential bias of the participants since the researcher did not measure previous online dating experience. For instance, users that tried social dating before but had a negative experience might be suspicious to future interactions.
Rochat et al. (2019), using cluster analysis to identify different subgroups of Tinder users showes results that align with the above. The biggest cluster showed low impulsivity, high self-esteem, secure attachment, medium to intense sexual desire, low depressive mood, and low problematic use while using Tinder. The smallest cluster is characterized by low to medium impulsivity, low self-esteem, anxious attachment, low motives, very low sexual desire, more depressive mood, and low problematic use. One cluster with the highest level of problematic Tinder use was defined by a high level of anxious attachment, a high level of sexual desire, high sensation seeking, and a moderate level of self-esteem. Since this is the first and only cluster analysis approach regarding online dating, results should be handled carefully.
One study investigated the online sexual activities of men and found that men with low self-esteem are especially attracted to sexual content (Wery et al., 2020). More time spent consuming online sexual content and using sexual platforms was linked to a higher rate of loneliness. The researcher concluded that the internet is a safer place than the offline world and is thus used as an avoiding strategy and coping mechanism. 85 -100 % of participants with an online sexual activity problem report at least one co-occurring psychiatric disorder.
Self-Monitoring and a Decrease in Social Media can Result in Better Mental Health
The literature on social dating, Tinder, and other dating platforms is limited and the research is in the early stages. There are still a lot of open questions about the use and outcome. Nevertheless, excessive use might end in addiction and mental problems. Since no paper targets the limitation of social dating, this section addresses a study about social media limitation that is one of the first experimental approaches (collected objective data on actual usage and limited the social media use to 10min a day). Since many social media platforms also offer dating opportunities, it might be a valuable study.
Hunt et al. (2018) target the three major social media platforms (Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram). Using a limited amount of social media for three whole weeks significantly impacted well-being. Loneliness and depressive symptoms decreased in the experimental group. Even participants that started with low depressive symptoms showed a significant improvement. The highest effect was seen in people that scored high in depressive symptoms. The experimental and control groups showed improvement in fear of missing out and anxiety, potentially due to the self-monitoring task. This study showed some limitations. Hard to control the actual social media impact since different apps could be used during the study. Not all participants ended the long-term follow-up (they got graded too early). Third, they did not separate the data between men and women.
Social media, online dating, or Tinder belong to our everyday speech and has become an increasing service in western society. The present paper is a first attempt to gather findings on the effect of online dating on well-being in men, with the main focus on self-esteem. To answer the initial research question, this paper can provide a partial answer: yes, self-esteem affects the use of social dating and well-being. But it needs to be careful with the gender differences since no clear distinction could be made using the current literature.
Self-esteem enhancement shows to be the strongest motivational factor in the use of social dating platforms, independent of the level of self-esteem. Furthermore, the level of self-esteem shows a different outcome for online-dating use. Users with very low self-esteem scores and high involvement in romantic relationships rate online dating as unsafe and prefer a more traditional or offline dating (Fullwood & Attril-Smith, 2018). While no distinction between gender was made, further research might be needed. Low self-esteem participants spend more time on social media and social dating, leading to addictive behavior. Since the literature shows a relatively strong correlation between internet addiction and depression (Hunt et al., 2018, Twenge et al.,2017), further research on the addictive use of online dating is recommended. On the other hand, users with relatively high self-esteem spend less time online, show a more realistic view of themselves, and use online dating to satisfy their boredom.
Regarding a potential gender difference, findings indicate that men use online dating and Tinder more often than women, are more prone to seek casual sex using the platforms and their sex-search motives are related to problematic use of digital resources that might end in addiction. (Orosz et al., 2018). Especially homosexual men show an increased risk of problematic use of online dating due to the prominent sex-search motive for online dating. (Bonilla-Zorita et al., 2019).
During the research of this paper, multiple potential factors seem to concern the use of different online platforms. People high on narcissistic traits, the Dark Triad and sociosexuality might be at higher risk concerning online dating use. Also, a relationship between social dating use and unsafe sex is a public health concern regarding sexually transmitted infections. Further research should address concerns about risk-taking behavior, well-being and the secure use of online dating platforms. Other personality traits that are often linked to users are sociability, sensation-seeking, sexual permissiveness, and anxious attachment (Orosz et al., 2018). But so far, no research has been done to investigate the relationship between anxiety traits and problematic online dating.
Some general limitations of the research in the field are regarding the gender differences. Often studies don’t distinguish between men and women in their analyses, or the hypothesis is more general. Research about the different effects of gender might be beneficial in establishing new treatment methods. Another point is the age. No specific study addresses the other age groups of social dating users. Only a general comment that mid and older adults don’t use social media as often. No separation between adolescence, early, middle and senior adulthood was made but would be a supporting research field. In the end, using digital tools for daily occupations is relatively young for humankind and raises many questions for future research in psychology.
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