How are white men being perceived on Tinder?

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Tinder is one of the most popular dating apps available, with millions of downloads and users since its establishment in 2012. These users often decide whether to pursue another based on very little information, using brief biographies and profile pictures as first impressions.

So, how are these profile pictures and bios being interpreted? Do they make a difference on how other users view a profile? Are men getting in their own way by posting content that is causing viewers to perceive them negatively? Psychology associate professor Beth Daniels, along with University of Wisconsin assistant professor Morgan C. Jerald and former UCCS graduate student JoAnna Dieker, delved into how sexualized profiles of white men are interpreted on Tinder with their research study and article “Putting a Sexy Self Forward on Tinder: What Do Viewers Think About Sexualized White Men?”

In this case, “sexualized” is defined as showing exposed skin, such as appearing shirtless in the photo, showing muscularity (defined biceps and abs, for example) and explicit statements regarding short-term relationship seeking (such as stating an interest in casual sexual encounters or seeking a committed relationship in the bio).

“There is pressure on men as well to meet societal ideals in terms of appearance, so one of the things we looked at in this study was muscularity,” Daniels explained. “If men are feeling like they have to be ripped and show it on a dating app, we were interested in if people actually attend to that. Does muscularity matter in how they evaluate somebody? So we think that’s useful in terms of educating young people about how they present themselves on social media.”

Based on previous research indicating similar ideas, this study aimed to test a few main hypotheses around a viewer’s perception of the user based on their profile picture. The researchers hypothesized that the following traits would cause viewers to perceive the poster as less competent and more likely to partake in risky sexual behavior, but also perceive them as more physically attractive and having a higher social appeal:

  • A sexualized profile photo
  • Muscular appearance (defined abdominals and biceps)
  • Explicitly stated interest in casual sex

They also expected relationships between the variables, meaning they hypothesized that users looking for casual sex who are muscular in appearance and have a sexualized profile photo would be perceived as less competent, more sexually risky, more attractive and more socially appealing.

To test these, researchers had about 560 participants aged 18-25, a little over half of whom were women, view mock Tinder profiles and rate them on competence, social appeal, physical attractiveness and risky sexual behavior. The profiles consisted of the same base image of a white man (under the pseudonym “Noah”) from the waist up smiling, but ranged in sexualization aspects. For example, the profile descriptions either described Noah as interested in casual sex or a committed relationship, while the profile pictures, using a digital editing app for muscularity range, portrayed Noah as either having defined abdominal and bicep muscles or lacking this musculature, along with the pictures either showing Noah as wearing a white t-shirt or as shirtless.

To avoid bias, participants were told that the study was “designed to learn more about users of dating websites.” Researchers also examined perceptions separately for male and female participants to “maintain adequate statistical power.”

When evaluating the responses and data, the authors found the results aligned with some of their expectations while being surprised by others. The perceptions also varied some between the male and female participants.

For profiles with relationship statements (interested in a committed vs. casual relationship) both women and men rated users interested in casual sex as less competent. Unexpectedly, women perceived these users as less socially appealing as well, though men did not feel strongly about this either way, and these statements had no marked effect on physical attractiveness for either group. However, women and men both rated the profiles interested in casual sex as more likely to partake in risky sexual behavior, which aligned with researchers’ expectations.

When it came to muscularity, neither women nor men had strong perceptions regarding competence or social appeal. The groups agreed that the profiles with more muscularity were more physically attractive, but women did not feel as though muscular users were more likely to be sexually risky while men did.

For the sexualized profile photos (shirtless vs. with a shirt on) women, as hypothesized, perceived these users as less competent and less physically attractive, though men did not have strong ratings either way. Both participant sets rated the sexualized profiles as more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, but also as as less socially appealing, which was unexpected.

“That was a surprise, because if you look in our media environment, like athletes in particular such as David Beckham, there are those ads of him in underwear and so forth,” Daniels noted. “You see this objectification of men in media where it’s sort of presented as ‘cool’ so we thought maybe people would be more inclined to want to be friends with this ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ guy. But in fact, both men and women were saying no, we prefer regular Noah over here when he’s not sexualized.”

As far as relationships between the variables, these interactions did not prove to have significant correlations for either participant group.

These findings suggest that white men on Tinder may want to reevaluate their profile photos and bios if they fall under this study’s category of sexualization. They likely aren’t expecting assumptions to be made about their competence level or social appeal based on if they’re shirtless or not in a picture, but this research suggests that to be the case.

“I think sometimes people are under the misunderstanding of what others want to see and, in this case, I’m sure that a young man posting a muscular bathroom selfie is not expecting that anyone thinks that he takes risks in relationships,” said Daniels. “These results could be informative to kind of nudge people away from this particular self-presentation choice because it’s not yielding very positive outcomes.”

You can learn more about “Putting a Sexy Self Forward on Tinder: What Do Viewers Think About Sexualized White Men?” by reading the article online here.

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