Psychologists and data scientists are getting better at sizing up someone’s personality from their online behavior. Nowadays, a whizzy machine learning algorithm can make semi-accurate predictions about one’s underlying personality characteristics from a quick scan of one’s Facebook profile or Twitter feed.
Now researchers have set their sights to dating apps. If you’ve ever found that people you’ve met on dating apps seem to be more exasperating to deal with than people in other parts of your life, there may be a reason for that. A team of researchers at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria found that people who use dating apps are more likely to possess dark personality traits like narcissism and machiavellianism than they are to have traits like openness or agreeableness.
“Predicting [online dating usage] on combined questionnaire and behavioral data showed dark personality traits superior to bright ones as predictors in the dating app context,” state the researchers. “Narcissism, and the motives love and sex were the most relevant predictors for any usage, and machiavellianism was the only relevant predictor for usage time.” (Machiavellianism, for readers unfamiliar with the term, is used to describe people who are out for their own self-interest and are willing to use deception to achieve their ends.)
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited 555 German adults to participate in a 3-week tracking study. Some participants installed a software on their phone that monitored their daily usage of three of Germany’s most popular dating apps while others self-reported their dating app usage. The researchers also asked participants to complete two well-known personality scales: the Big Five and the Naughty Nine. The Big Five contains measures of neutral personality traits such as extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness while the Naughty Nine measures negative personality traits such as narcissism (e.g., “I tend to strive for prestige and status”), machiavellianism (“I have used flattery to impose my will”), and psychopathy (“I tend not to care about the moral of my actions”).
The team found that the negative traits were much stronger predictors of online dating usage than the neutral/positive traits. Specifically, narcissism was the strongest predictor of whether someone used an online dating app while machiavellianism was the strongest predictor of average daily usage. Among the neutral traits tested by the researchers, emotional stability was the only trait reliably associated with dating app usage, but in the reverse direction (i.e., less emotionally stable people were more likely to use online dating apps).
None of this paints a particularly bright or alluring picture of the people who are active on dating apps. From this research, it can be surmised that dating app users are more likely to be self-obsessed, superior, manipulative, sneaky, and/or ingratiating than people in the general public.
If it’s any consolation, however, the researchers also tested whether love or sex was the stronger motive for using dating apps. They found love to be the stronger motivating force, though sex was not far behind. They also found the dark personality trait of psychopathy, which describes people who are dangerously risk-seeking and lack empathy, to be unrelated to dating app use.
The authors conclude, “The current study contributes to our understanding of the complex interaction of personality and actual behavior in the concrete field of dating apps and dark personality.”