The Science of Love or: “Why Tinder (kinda) works“

Cheesy love songs all of a sudden make sense? You cannot get rid of a dreamy smile on your face while being stuck with a picture of another person in your head? Your appetite is gone due to the firework in your stomach? Then you know it happened – you are smitten or have even fallen madly in love! Sooner or later, most people experience the desire to be connected to someone, even if it may appear to be only of physical nature. The popular dating app Tinder changed the rules of the game: it has never been so easy to actually find potential dating partners and while some might say, it only serves for booty calls, there is always this friend of a friend who entered a relationship with a Tinder match.

Being sceptical about the actual quality of Tinder acquaintances, I started to search the internet for explanations – explanations for why and how we fall in love and why it is so incredibly difficult to understand the process of bonding. In the entire history of humanity, artists, poets and musicians have created masterpieces about a feeling that is so abstract, yet so clear at the same time – love. Scientists can finally make sense of it with some surprising findings that can be applied to Tinder.

It’s all in your brain

The anthropologist Helen Fisher has worked with several neuroscientists to find out why we love and how love actually functions. Her results are interesting:

  1. Fisher identifies three brain systems of love: the sex drive, romantic love and attachment. These brain systems can interfere with each other, but they can coexist as well, meaning: people are capable of loving (or desiring) more than one person at the same time.
  2. Romantic love is as addictive as cocaine. Brain scans show high activity in the parts that are responsible for cravings and drives when a person is in love. Just as a drug, love has similar effects on people, including both physical and psychological changes. Ironically, the activity increases after rejection, stimulating the longing for gratification.
  3. Long-term love does exist! Fisher and her colleagues scanned the brains of couples who have been happily married for more than 20 years. The result: even after two decades, the brains of the couples “lit up” with the thought of their significant other.
  4. Casual sex is tricky! Orgasms lead to a rush of dopamine and other chemicals in your brain that are responsible for the feeling of bonding and attachment. Even if it is “just sex”, your brain might get tricked and start falling for the person you hooked up with.

Beyond that, psychologists have as well contributed to the science of love: we know that we are attracted to people who are similarly good-looking and intelligent as we are and, who as well share similar beliefs and values regarding religion and social norms, but as well who have a similar socio-economic background. Moreover, the role of childhood and relationship to the parents interfere as well. Additionally, timing and proximity are important factors.

“We have Chemistry”

As Helen Fisher argues, it might happen that you are surrounded by people, who have the same socio-economic background and similar levels of overall attractiveness and intelligence, they might even share the same values as you do, but sometimes it simply does not “click”.
Her approach in understanding this, is pure chemistry: she argues that the ratio of the hormones Dopamine, Serotonin, Testosterone and Oestrogen plays a significant role in order to find your match. The two most dominant ones define your personality and dating behaviour. Of course, there is a survey to identify your main characteristics.

In the book “Why Him? Why Her? How to Find and Keep Lasting Love”, Fisher characterizes the following four types:

High Dopamine level/ the “Explorer”: curious, energetic/restless, enthusiastic/optimistic, seeks experience, independent, open-minded/ mentally flexible, verbally and numerally creative, impulsive.
This type of person seeks somebody who is as well an explorer.

High Serotonin level/ the “Builder”: conventional/ conforming, structured, social/ loyal, cautious, fact-oriented, respectful regarding rules, authorities and religion, conscientious, calm/ controlled, figural/ numeric intelligence.
This type of person seeks somebody who is as well a builder.

High Testosterone level/ the “Director”: direct, decisive/ bold, emotionally contained, rank oriented/ competitive, inventive/ experimental, analytical/ logical.
This type of person seeks somebody who has a high Oestrogen level.

High Oestrogen level/ the “Negotiator”: executive social skills (reading posture, faces, voices, gestures), linguistic skills, empathic, intuitive, web thinking (long-term, contextual), mentally flexible.
This type of person seeks somebody who has a high Testosterone level.

A team of scholars found out that Oestrogen and Testosterone levels are visible in the facial appearance. While a high Oestrogen level causes women to have full lips, big eyes and rather small chins and nose structures, moreover, to be most attractive during her ovulation, a high Testosterone level causes men to have bigger jars and foreheads. Corresponding to your own hormonal levels, you will find people attractive due to their overall level of Testosterone/ Oestrogen.
So how does Tinder help you finding a partner?

Applying the logic of the scientific data, Tinder helps you in two ways: Firstly, pictures say more than words – especially to men, who tend to be more visual in their bonding pattern. While you subconsciously will recognize the Testosterone/ Oestrogen levels by seeing the faces of another person, there is much more coming along with it: by clothing, posture and other signals, we reveal much more about our socio-economic background. You initially know, who plays in your “league” and have the possibility to discover the compatibility of your values and intelligence in the chat function after matching – this saves time.

Secondly, in a small experiment, it was shown that Tinder increases optimism regarding the own dating success. This is related to the gratification one gets with every match and the availability of potential partners – even if you fail 80% of the time, chances are that sooner or later you’ll get a shot. This optimism will keep you longer open for dating, increasing your chances that things will eventually work out – even outside of the Tinder world.

Interestingly, Helen Fisher found during her research that 50% of the people engaging one-night-stands and casual sexual adventures, secretly seek to trigger a long-term relationship through this and one third of them actually succeed. Considering the morally flexible reality of Tinder, it appears to be likelier to find what Fisher calls the greatest prize in life – an appropriate mating partner (some might question this attitude though).

Love takes more than swiping right

Although Tinder can help you increase your chances to find a partner for whatever you are searching, it is no guarantee for any success at all. While some studies suggest that it takes only a few seconds to fall in love or a kiss to exchange your “genetic data” in order to know if you fit to each other, the psychologist Arthur Aron claimed that by asking 36 personal questions, you could trick your psyche by creating closeness and fall in love.

Since most people won’t start to carry questionnaires with them creating an awkward date by testing hormone levels or letting a date appear like a job interview, some of the core thoughts can be taken seriously in order to succeed without the whole dating stress. In our hectic and information-overflowed lives, often we forget who we are and what we really want, just like we forget how to lead decent and substantial conversations. Yes, people appear to be replaceable on Tinder, but actually they are not. Fischer did not find any people out of several thousands, who filled out her survey the same way – this explains how complex and different personalities are.

Perhaps it would be already enough to know what type of person suits you best in accordance to your personality (leaving out the wishful thinking) and show real interest to discover, if you share same views. Plus: if it is true what science taught us, trust your guts regarding attraction, you can’t overcome what you are in any way – at least when we speak about natural predispositions.

Sources and background knowledge:

Article: Falling in love is ‚more scientific than you think,‘ according to new study by SU professor
Ted-Talk: Helen Fisher „The Brain in Love“
Ted-Talk: Helen Fisher „Why We Love, Why We Cheat“
Talk: Helen Fisher „Why We Fall in Love“
Experiment: SoulPancake: Tinder/ The Science of Love

Photo: (Creative Commons), user: Robert