50 shades of Tinder bios: Interview with Zeph van Berlo

Picture of By Kamilė Laurinavičiūtė

By Kamilė Laurinavičiūtė

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”48″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]H[/mks_dropcap]ow does one seduce another in 500 characters? Well, seduce may be too strong of a word, yet this is one of the questions humans face today. It is no secret that in this era of living online, dating is no exception. With that comes the unavoidable burden of choosing one’s Tinder biography – it may determine whether the love of their life will swipe right. According to Zeph van Berlo, a lecturer and researcher at the UvA Communication Science department, the different genders have different approaches to this burden. We sat down to discuss the nuances of gendered self-presentation on Tinder.

You have written a paper on gendered self-presentation on Tinder. What sparked your interest in this particular topic?

First of all, I have always thought that this whole concept of online dating is very interesting. Back in the early 2000s, talking to strangers in online chat rooms was ultimately weird. If you were to say “Yeah, I’m meeting someone from the Internet”, people would think you’re crazy. 

Then Tinder popped up and it was a game-changer. It became mainstream and this online dating world became a norm – it wasn’t cringe-worthy anymore. So when I needed to collect a dataset for my research master’s, I thought: “Why not collect Tinder profiles and see how people present themselves?” 

”Women tend to use their profile as a way to filter out the people they don’t want to match with, whereas men tend not to.”

When I was a student myself, I also had a Tinder profile, so I saw how women presented themselves, yet I could not see that for men. I was curious – what do other men say? Are the stereotypes true? Do all the pictures include them holding a fish? (laughs) So I teamed up with Giulia Ranzini, who is an expert in the field of online dating research, and she told me about strategic self-presentation. According to that concept, women tend to use their profile as a way to filter out the people they don’t want to match with, whereas men tend not to, they just simply almost always swipe right (accept the candidate) – they see how many matches they get and then they decide.

So what were the main gender differences you found during your research?

First of all, we found that there’s a big difference in the age range: the average female is 23 years old, while the standard male is almost 29. We studied the differences themselves on word-level – what words were mostly used by the different genders. We saw that words like “honesty” and “athleticism” were more likely to be used by men. Also, they tend to say that they are “looking” for something less often than women. Women, on the contrary, tend to use words like “conviviality” (gezelligheid) more. 

We looked at emojis as well and saw that with emojis, there’s less of a difference. It is notable that men are very unlikely to use the hand-raising emoji, whereas women tend to use it a lot. The usage of the heart and the muscular arm is almost equal for both genders.

In your research, you found that women focus on themselves in their biographies more than men, according to the use of personal pronouns. Why do you think that is?

I think this can also be linked to strategic self-presentation. Women tend to use their bios to describe what they want, which stems from who they are. So in that sense, it makes more sense to talk about yourself, meaning if you want to filter out your matches, you describe your interests and needs. As men seem to use their bios more to invite others to swipe, they consequently focus on the candidate rather than themselves. As this is an automated content analysis, I cannot draw any causal conclusions from the results, unfortunately, but this could be one of the reasons.

You have conducted follow-up research with more sophisticated text analysis techniques. What new findings did this allow you to discover?

We classified the data into 24 topics – they range from moral character to “living young, wild and free”. We found that the latter is the most commonly used topic, estimated to be present in about 10% of the bios, while the topic of “looking for love” was only found in around 4% of Tinder biographies. 

Some topics were more likely to be used by women, such as interests and “living young, wild and free”, although the latter could be due to more young women than young men being on Tinder. For men, the topics they were more likely to use were optimism and biography-related phrases, such as “here I should write my bio”. 

Another interesting thing we investigated was in people’s mentions of swiping, which related to the strategic self-presentation concept. Women tend to put certain criteria in their bios and encourage people to swipe left (reject the match) if the reader does not fit them, whereas men are more likely to encourage swiping right. One more fascinating topic we found was “willingness to lie about meeting on Tinder”, which is estimated to appear in around 3% of the bios.

In your opinion, how did the emergence of dating apps change today’s social scene?

I’m not sure if it completely changed the social scene in terms of dating – it is more that it augmented it. It’s not like there’s no offline dating anymore. There’s a misconception that everyone on Tinder is there to date or for hookups. Actually, research shows people also use it for enjoyment, entertainment – it’s a game. Of course, there are people on Tinder who look for hookups. But there are also people in bars who look for hookups. Such people are everywhere – it’s not necessarily a Tinder-thing per se. 

So I don’t believe online dating disrupted interpersonal communication. All those Tinder types – looking for hookups, looking for fun, looking for love – they were already there before the days of online dating, now they just have more platforms. And I think that’s great – it’s an additional opportunity to add something really valuable, such as love, into their lives. 


Cover: Maxine Stevens

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