Woman Bored on Phone

Lawsuit Alleges Dating Apps Hook Users Through Dopamine Manipulation

(The Epoch Times)—Swiping left and right to conveniently find a romantic connection on one’s phone may be more about addiction than a quest for love, a recent lawsuit alleges.

A law firm representing six plaintiffs has filed a class action complaint against Match Group Inc.—the parent company of popular dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, and The League—alleging that the company was negligent by failing to disclose that the apps are, and were designed to be, powerfully addictive.

“Harnessing powerful technologies and hidden algorithms, Match intentionally designs the Platforms with addictive, game-like design features, which lock users into a perpetual pay-to-play loop that prioritizes corporate profits over its marketing promises and customers’ relationship goals,” states the lawsuit, which was filed on Valentine’s Day.

The lawsuit says Match Group violates several consumer protection laws while utilizing strategies to “capture and sustain” subscribers instead of facilitating their journey to find a partner.

The Hinge app is marketed as an app that is “designed to be deleted,” but the lawsuit counters that it is in fact “designed to be addictive.”

It alleged that Match Group’s business model depends on the “monopolization of users’ attention” while using “dopamine-manipulating product features” to create “psychological rewards” similar to what entraps gambling addicts.

“Match’s manipulation has succeeded,” the lawsuit states. “Dating app addiction is now prevalent and awareness of the pervasive problem is growing.”

More People Meeting Online

The lawsuit cited a survey by eHarmony, a rival dating website company, which suggested that 90 percent of single people in the United Kingdom believe they are addicted to dating apps.

Of those surveyed, 48 percent said they check their dating apps before going to bed, while 39 percent check the apps upon waking.

Twenty-eight percent of users check their apps while at work, and 12 percent of users admitted to checking their apps while on a date with someone else.

The lawsuit says the apps rely on intermittent variable rewards (IVR), a “reinforcement schedule” derived by psychologist B.F. Skinner.

The phenomenon relies on “uncertain rewards” which “trigger stronger psychological responses than expected.”

“Skinner found that variable reinforcement produced the ’slowest rate of extinction‘ compared to all other forms of psychological conditioning,” the lawsuit says. “Jonathan Badeen, a Tinder co-founder, Defendant’s Chief Science Officer, and inventor of the ’swipe mechanic,’ admitted to journalist Nancy Jo Sales that he was ‘inspired’ by Skinner’s 1948 experiment where he ’turned pigeons into gamblers’ by introducing IVR to the birds’ feeding schedule.”

In response to The Epoch Times’ request for comment, a Match Group spokesperson said the lawsuit “is ridiculous and has zero merit.”

“Our business model is not based on advertising or engagement metrics,” the spokesperson said. “We actively strive to get people on dates every day and off our apps. Anyone who states anything else doesn’t understand the purpose and mission of our entire industry.”

According to a 2023 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, more couples are meeting online in recent years, as opposed to earlier days when couples met each other through friends.

“The rise of the Internet has allowed individuals in the dating market to disintermediate their friends, i.e., to meet romantic partners without the personal intermediation of their friends and family,” the study said.

The Pew Research Center reports that 46 percent of the Americans who use dating apps have used Tinder, which amounts to 14 percent of all adults.
“The dating sites and apps people have used also vary widely by age,” the report stated. “For example, 79% of online dating users under 30 say they have used Tinder, versus 44% of those ages 30 to 49 and smaller shares of those 50 and older. On the other hand, Match is more popular among online dating users 50 to 64 than among those in other age groups.”

Fifty-three percent of dating app users report a “somewhat positive” experience, while 14 percent report a “very positive” experience, according to the report.

“A slightly smaller share (46%) say their experiences have been very or somewhat negative overall,” it said.

‘A Quick, Pleasure-Seeking Event’

Lawsuits against social media companies such as Meta have ramped up recently, with states filing complaints alleging that Facebook and Instagram have violated child safety and consumer protection laws.

In October, 42 attorneys general sued Meta, alleging the company had “profoundly altered the psychological and social realities of a generation of young Americans” with strategies to get children addicted to its platforms.

Online addiction manifests in several ways, experts on the topic have reported, but each platform—whether it be a dating app, social media, or pornographic website—can give the brain a rush of dopamine to which the user can become addicted.

Trish Leigh, a cognitive neuroscientist, spoke in a 2021 video on her YouTube channel about how Tinder and other dating apps can hook users.

“For most people when they are using dating apps, they are excited about the potential of meeting for objectified sexual gratification and pleasure,” she said, describing these as “dopamine-producing activities, not serotonin-producing activities.”

“Serotonin is the neurotransmitter for happiness; dopamine is the neurotransmitter for seeking pleasure out,” she said.

Dating apps are mostly used for “a quick, pleasure-seeking event,” she said.

“It’s not the natural way of going about meeting someone,” she said, adding that it contributes to low self-esteem and that most people aren’t on Tinder to achieve a “genuine connection.”

Instead, she said, people should involve themselves in activities “where you can make a genuine connection with other people and with other potential partners.”