When singletons forgo face-to-face connection to scroll through avatars, they receive a short-term hit of validation but miss out on social interaction itself: indeed, a majority report feeling lonely after swiping.
The irresistible pull of variable-schedule rewards. The brain releases dopamine not upon the receipt of a reward but in anticipation of it (think dogs salivating at the sound signalling supper).A Chelsea-based physiotherapist I know saw a young woman complaining of persistent pain in her index finger. For the vast majority of users, the game itself proves to be more arousing than the other players: fewer than 10 per cent of matches are consummated with even a half-assed “hey”, as users opt to “keep playing” instead of messaging the matches already made.Puzzled, he tried to identify what could possibly be straining it. Nearly half of millennials surveyed admitted to using dating apps as “ego-boosting procrastination” rather than to meet people.Like any interface in our attention economy, there are “a thousand people on the other side of the screen” whose job it is to keep you hooked, says “design ethicist” Tristan Harris, one of a growing band of ex-tech execs reckoning with the Frankensteins of their creation.Every last detail of the user experience is engineered to keep our hands and eyes glued to the smartphone – from the colours and sounds of notifications to the timing of their receipt.This effect is amplified when the reward – in this case, a match – is uncertain.Research has shown that pigeons presented with a button that produces goodies (pellets of food or doses of drugs) in an unpredictable pattern will peck the heck out of the button, nearly twice as much as when the reward arrives in a predictable manner.Scientists have come to understand that the brain changes its physical structure as it performs various activities.Repetitive actions set grooves in neural pathways to make them the path of least resistance, allowing the brain to conserve energy.Digital daters get in the habit of automatically opening an app at certain times of the day or as the go-to solution to quell boredom or loneliness, whether or not they’re consciously aware of that feeling.Studies have yet to be conducted on the long-term effects of the dopaminergic excitation of dating apps on the brain (rats don’t have i Phones.) But even small doses of addictive drugs have been shown to lead to long-lasting or even permanent changes in neural circuitry, and behavioural cues are thought to work in much the same way as drugs.