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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Psychology Behind Tinder: Talking with Professor Anne Helen Petersen

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 7:57 AM

Tinder-ing the day away? - UZZFARMERS
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  • Tinder-ing the day away?

If you’re anything like us, when you’re bored at work, stuck on a stalled Muni train, or can’t sleep at 3 a.m., you’re prone to scroll through Tinder. There’s nothing like passing judgment on strangers to pass the time. But have you ever thought about why you swipe “left” or “right” on someone? Sure, you’re going to swipe left on someone who you don’t find physically attractive, but has it ever occurred to you that it might be deeper than that?

BuzzFeed employee and former media studies professor Anne Helen Petersen thinks it is. And she conducted a study that proves she’s right.

In her article “How I Rebuilt Tinder and Discovered the Shameful Secret of Attraction,” Petersen states that she began wondering why we swipe the way we do when she was watching a friend go through Tinder at a bar, shouting out her impressions of each person she was swiping. Although her friend was exclaiming that her potential matches were “too old” or “too bald,” Petersen wondered if some of these statements were subconscious code for a criticism relating to race or class.

“One of the reasons I started thinking about it was that I was playing with Tinder and I kept looking at firefighters, and I didn’t know why I was doing that,” Petersen told us in a phone interview. “I think it was subconscious class biased.”

Petersen collected 60 stock photos of people, 30 of men and 30 of women, ran each photo through an Instagram filter, and put each one in the standard Tinder frame. She then posted the photos as a poll online, asking each participant to say whether they would say “yes” or “no” to each one and why. She also asked participants to guess each person’s education level and which religion and race each person identified with.

It took only a weekend for Petersen’s survey to gather 799 answers. Based on the results, Petersen determined that race, religion, and class are all huge factors in which direction people swipe. Of these, class was the most prominent.

“I knew that race was going to be a part of it,” said Petersen of her results, “but because of my background in cultural criticism and academia, I know it’s never just race.”

So what does the fact that race, religion and class factor so much into the direction we swipe say about Tinder users as a whole?

“A lot of people have linked to [the article] and tweeted ‘people are the worst!" Petersen added, "I don’t think people are the worst, I think we have subconscious things we think in order to make relationships work. It’s fascinating to me how much race factors into that.”


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Jessica Nemire

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