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“I feel like I do have some weird sense of obligation to meet someone,” he says.“Even though this is the longest I’ve ever been single and it’s probably the happiest I’ve ever been.” Tiffany, a 22-year-old who works for a travel startup, agrees that dating apps make it more difficult to be content in single life.
The psychologist Michael Zeiler found in 1971 that pigeons peck at a button nearly twice as much when it produces food pellets at an unpredictable frequency than when the rewards are foreseeable.
Just as it is impossible to tell when a slot machine will pay out again, gamified dating apps leave you eagerly awaiting another match.
There’s a reason why the people who have swiped right on you don’t appear consecutively at the beginning of an app session.
Like pigeons, our swiping behaviour is reinforced – as in we keep swiping – when we don’t know when our next reward will come, if at all. Tinder’s Chief Strategy Officer Jonathan Badeen admitted last year that the swiping feature was inspired by a 1948 experiment by Burrhus Frederic Skinner.
The psychologist used positive reinforcement to train pigeons to peck more, and in particular patterns, in the belief that the amount and way they pecked optimised the delivery of food.