Mobile Media & Communication
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Attached to dating apps:
Attachment orientations and
preferences for dating apps
University of Michigan, USA
Robin S. Edelstein
University of Michigan, USA
Philip A. Vernon
University of Western Ontario, Canada
Our study examines attachment-related differences in the use of dating applications
(dating apps). We collected online survey data regarding people’s attachment orientation
and dating app preferences. People with a more anxious attachment orientation were
more likely to report using dating apps than people lower in anxious attachment;
people with a more avoidant attachment orientation were less likely to report using
dating apps than people lower in avoidant attachment. Participants who used dating
apps cited Tinder, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish as those most commonly used. The
most common reason people reported for using apps was to meet others, and the
most common reason people reported for not using apps was difficulty trusting people
online. Our findings suggest that individual differences in attachment may be relevant for
understanding online behavior, and that dating apps might be a fruitful avenue for future
research on attachment-related differences.
anxious attachment, attachment, avoidant attachment, dating apps, potential partners,
Kristi Chin, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 500 S State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
770696MMC0010.1177/2050157918770696Mobile Media & CommunicationChin et al.
2 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
In the early 2000s, initiating a romantic relationship with someone you met through your
cellular phone would have been difficult to imagine. Currently, however, this is one of
the most popular ways to meet people (Couch & Liamputtong, 2008; Rosenfeld &
Thomas, 2012). A person can download dating applications (or dating apps) onto their
cellular phone and meet potential romantic partners in the palm of their hand. In fact, 50
million individuals currently use just one popular dating app called Tinder; they spend
approximately 90 minutes on this app per day and may check it up to 11 times per day
(Newall, 2016). The present study connects this dating app phenomenon with the person-
ality literature, exploring how attachment orientation (i.e., people’s characteristic
approach to close relationships) is associated with the use of dating apps, the types of
dating apps used, and people’s motivations to use them.
Researchers have studied how individual differences in attachment are associated
with attraction in the lab (i.e., indicating interest in hypothetical others) and in real life
(i.e., indicating interest in others during speed dating sessions), but much less is known
about attachment-related differences in online behavior. Connecting, communicating,
and possibly meeting with potential partners may involve emotional and/or physical inti-
macy, and there are important individual differences in the extent to which people feel
comfortable with closeness and intimacy (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998). For instance,
people with a more anxious attachment orientation desire connection with others but
have concerns and fears of abandonment (Campbell & Marshall, 2011), whereas people
with a more avoidant orientation have discomfort with closeness and intimacy (Edelstein
& Shaver, 2004). Thus, understanding how attachment orientation is associated with dat-
ing app usage can shed light on individual differences in modern dating dynamics. Our
goal is to examine whether anxious and avoidant attachment, which have been studied in
the lab and in real life, are associated with dating app use, dating app preferences, and
motivations to use dating apps.
People using dating apps generally create a profile that includes their description, pic-
tures, relationship preferences, and location preferences. They are then able to “like” or
“dislike” other profiles, and a match is made with further contact information provided
whenever both individuals “like” each other. We chose to study dating apps because of the
specific affordances of mobile-based online dating, which we detail in what follows.
Comparing dating apps to online dating websites
Dating apps are similar to online dating websites in that they provide access to potential
romantic partners, allow for communication with these individuals, and can provide match-
ing with compatible partners (Finkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reis, & Sprecher, 2012). Yet they
are distinct in that dating apps are location-based, cost-effective, and easy to use. To begin,
dating apps allow you to connect with others within your geographic area because the apps
use the cellular phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) to put people in contact with
others in their surrounding area. Most dating apps are free to download and use, whereas
Chin et al. 3
many online dating sites charge you for a membership, some of which have doubled in the
last 10 years (Hoffman, 2015). To clarify, many online dating websites also offer a cellular
phone-accessible app version of their website but this feature might also come at a cost.
Dating apps are also distinct from online dating websites because they are designed for
ease of use: dating app users can sign in with Facebook, choose a few existing photos, write
an optional, small description and then they are ready to browse other profiles. Setting up
a profile on an online dating website can take hours, if not days, because the websites have
room for more information and may include more complex features such as personality
inventories to help provide you with better matches. The dating app interface and method
of use is simple—dating apps are mainly visual, with little information to read.
Types of dating apps
People can also choose specific dating apps to connect with others that suit their partner
preferences or desired relationships. For instance, Tinder allows people to see photos of
others but has little to no information about user preferences or demographic informa-
tion. People report that they consider Tinder for casual sex encounters and because it is
trendy and exciting (Sumter, Vandenbosch, & Ligtenberg, 2017; “Tinder vs Bumble,”
2016). OkCupid allows users to filter who they see based on their answers to a wide
variety of questions (e.g., politics, relationships, religion), which might closely reflect
how typical dating websites work; people report that they consider OkCupid for serious
relationships because of this ability to tailor matches (“Tinder vs Bumble,” 2016).
Another app, Plenty of Fish, also provides services to enhance match-making, such as
monitoring common behavioral patterns to tailor potential matches and providing a com-
patibility score. Virtual dating assistance websites have rated OkCupid as better for more
serious dating, Tinder for more casual dating, and Plenty of Fish somewhere in the mid-
dle (“Tinder vs Bumble,” 2016). How do relationship-relevant personality traits play a
role in people’s use of dating apps? Given that little work has been done on personality
and dating app preferences, our goal is to examine whether attachment orientations are
associated with likelihood of using dating apps, and to explore the types of dating apps
people use and their reasons to use dating apps in general.
Attachment theory was originally conceptualized to describe the emotional bond between
an infant and his or her primary caregiver, and how infants respond when they are sepa-
rated from that caregiver (Bowlby, 1969). Psychologists later extended the theory to
study similarities between a child’s bond with his or her caregiver and subsequent bonds
with adult romantic partners (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Individual differences in attach-
ment orientation are conceptualized along two orthogonal dimensions: anxiety and
avoidance. People higher in attachment anxiety enjoy physical intimacy but have con-
cerns about abandonment; people higher in attachment avoidance tend to dislike physical
and emotional intimacy in close relationships (Brennan et al., 1998; Campbell &
Marshall, 2011). People low on both dimensions are generally considered securely
attached and feel comfortable depending on and trusting their romantic partner.
4 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
Given that anxiously attached individuals desire affiliation (Mikulincer & Shaver,
2007), we expect more anxious people to use dating apps because the purpose of dating
apps is to promote relationships (Couch & Liamputtong, 2008). Although these anxious
individuals desire relationships, they also fear rejection (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007).
Dating apps avoid face-to-face rejection by allowing users to indicate interest in others
online and only allow further contact if interest is mutual. Relatedly, people who are
higher in rejection sensitivity (a trait that is associated with anxious attachment; Feldman
& Downey, 1994) report that they use online dating sites (websites similar to dating
apps) more frequently than those who are less concerned about rejection (Blackhart,
Fitzpatrick, & Williamson, 2014). In sum, although there is relatively little research spe-
cifically on individual differences in anxious attachment and dating apps, we hypothe-
size that more anxious people will be more likely to report being likely to use, and report
actual use of dating apps.
A defining characteristic of attachment avoidance is the desire to maintain emotional
distance and independence from others (Chopik et al., 2014). Because more avoidant
people are less likely to enter committed relationships (Schindler, Fagundes, & Murdock,
2010), we expect that more avoidant people will be less likely to use dating apps due to
their discomfort with close relationships. In addition, avoidant people are less likely to
use methods of communication that might allow for greater closeness and immediacy,
such as in person and phone communication (Drouin & Landgraff, 2012; Wardecker,
Chopik, Boyer, & Edelstein, 2016). Given that dating apps provide a favorable context
for closeness and intimacy with others, we hypothesize that more avoidant people will
report being less likely to use, and be less likely to actually use, dating apps.
The current study
In the current study, we examined how individual differences in adult attachment orienta-
tion were associated with people’s feelings and behaviors in the context of dating apps.
We predicted that people who were higher in anxious attachment would report being more
likely to use dating apps, and more likely to actually use them, compared to people who
were lower in anxious attachment. We also predicted that people who were higher in
avoidant attachment would report being less likely to use dating apps, and be less likely to
actually use them, compared to people who were lower in avoidant attachment.
Previous research has demonstrated that users may have more diverse motivations to
use dating apps, such as Grindr, for reasons other than hooking up (van De Wiele &
Tong, 2014). Indeed, researchers have examined motivations to use dating apps and con-
cluded that dating apps, such as Tinder, are an emerging way to meet people and initiate
romantic relationships (Sumter et al., 2017). Other studies examined motivations to use
dating apps versus dating websites using a forced-choice format, which constrained par-
ticipants to rank motivations selected by the researchers (Gatter & Hodkinson, 2016).
Prior literature on motivations for online media use has highlighted that some motiva-
tions are shared across platforms and some others are distinct (Ryan, Chester, Reece, &
Xenos, 2014; Sundar & Limperos, 2013). Therefore, we chose to ask people in an open-
ended format about the dating apps they have used, and the reasons for using or not using
dating apps in an effort to understand how dating app preferences might be associated
with attachment orientations.
Chin et al. 5
Three hundred and three North American adults were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk (MTurk) in April 2016, and were compensated $0.50 for completing the survey.
Sixty-four people were removed for not finishing the survey, and 56 people were removed
for not meeting inclusion criteria (i.e., participants had to be single; see Table 1 for
Attachment style. The Attachment Style Questionnaire (Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan,
1992) was used to assess individual differences in attachment. This questionnaire
includes nine items that measure anxious attachment (α = .83), with an example item
being, “I rarely worry about being abandoned by others.” Seven items measure avoidant
attachment (α = .89), with an example item being, “I find it relatively easy to get close
to others” (reverse-coded). Participants rated the extent to which they agreed with each
item using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree).
Dating apps survey. To measure whether people use dating apps or not, we asked partici-
pants, “Do you use dating apps?,” and they responded yes or no. Given that some people
Table 1. Demographic information.
Male 60% 110
Female 40% 73
Single 82% 150
Casually dating 17% 31
Widowed/Divorced 1% 2
Heterosexual 89% 163
Bisexual 6% 11
Lesbian/Gay 4% 7
Other 1% 2
Caucasian 60% 110
Asian 22% 40
Black or African American 8% 15
Hispanic or Latino 8% 15
American Indian or other 1% 2
Note. Participants were not restricted to a North American sample, and geographic location was not col-
lected. When subtotals are greater than 183, participants were allowed to select all that apply. Mage = 29.97
years, (SD = 8.50), range: 18–65 years of age.
6 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
may not have used dating apps, we asked all participants, “How likely are you to use
dating apps?,” and they responded using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = not at all likely, 7 =
very likely). Participants were also asked, “What dating apps have you used? Please list
all.” Finally, reasons for using or not using dating apps were measured with two open-
ended items, “Why would you decide to use dating apps?” and “Why would you decide
NOT to use dating apps?”
Data analytic plan
We began by examining bivariate associations among gender, age, attachment orienta-
tions, the likelihood of using dating apps, and actual use of dating apps. Multivariate
regressions were then conducted to examine how anxious attachment, avoidant attach-
ment, and gender predicted the likelihood of using dating apps.
Types of dating apps. Two research assistants summed total types of dating apps
reported (n = 298), and dating apps that were reported by less than 10% of the respond-
ents (n = 18) were dropped from further analyses because of low endorsement. Sepa-
rate logistic regressions were conducted on the three remaining dating apps (Tinder,
OKCupid, Plenty of Fish) used by participants to assess whether attachment orienta-
tion predicted the endorsement (1) or nonendorsement (0) of each of them.
Reasons to use and not use dating apps. Two researchers read participants’ open-ended
responses and extracted eight categories from the question, “Why would you decide
to use dating apps?,” and 10 categories from the question, “Why would you decide
NOT to use dating apps?” These two researchers and three trained coders indepen-
dently coded the presence (1) or absence (0) of each category; responses were coded
under as many categories as relevant (i.e., one response could be coded in more than
We computed Krippendorff’s alpha (or KALPHA) for each category to assess
interrater reliability between coders. KALPHA calculates expected and observed dis-
agreements in each response coded by each coder. KALPHA is the standard reliability
statistic for content analysis because it gives estimates at any level of measurement,
for any number of observers, with or without missing data (Hayes & Krippendorff,
2007). We dropped any categories that were below α = .60, leaving seven categories
for reasons to use dating apps and six categories for reasons not to use dating apps
(see Table 4).
The seven categories for reasons to use dating apps included: “Meet others” (e.g.,
“they [dating apps] can be a way to meet new people”); “Convenience” (e.g., “because it
is easier to [use dating apps to] weed out people who aren’t a good fit for me”); “Social”
(e.g., “because a lot of people around me are using that app”); “Fun” (e.g., “I use dating
apps for fun”); “Sex” (e.g., “I use dating apps to have sex”); “Bored” (e.g., “I use dating
apps to pass time”); and “Personal anxiety” (e.g., “I use dating apps because I feel lonely
and don’t want to go outside”). The six categories for reasons to not use dating apps
included: “Trust” (e.g., “I don’t trust people online”); “In person” (e.g., “I would rather
meet people in real life”); “Sex” (e.g., “I don’t want to use dating apps because people
Chin et al. 7
just want to hook up/have sex on dating apps”); “Unable to use dating apps” (e.g., “I
don’t know how to download or use dating apps”); “No time” (e.g., “I don’t have time to
use dating apps”); and “Don’t want to meet others” (e.g., “I am not looking for a relation-
ship”). Finally, the researchers agreed on one final set of codes that was used for further
qualitative analyses. Separate logistic regressions were conducted on the reasons to use
dating apps and reasons not to use dating apps, to assess whether attachment orientation
predicted the endorsement (1) or nonendorsement (0) of each of them.
Overall reports of likelihood of using dating apps and attachment
Means, standard deviations, and bivariate correlations among key study variables are
reported in Table 2. We included age in the correlation analyses because our sample
is diverse with respect to age, yet age did not have any significant correlations with
any of our variables and therefore we did not use it in any further analyses. Women
were higher in anxious attachment (M = 4.21, SD = 1.24) compared to men (M = 3.61,
SD = 0.95), t(180) = 3.66, p < .001; women were also higher in avoidant attachment
(M = 4.19, SD = 1.36) compared to men (M = 3.82, SD = 1.16), t(180) = 1.95, p < .05.
Anxious and avoidant attachment were positively correlated, which is common and
consistent with other studies (Chopik & Edelstein, 2014). In terms of our dating app
variables, likelihood of using dating apps was negatively correlated with avoidant
attachment but not significantly correlated with attachment anxiety. Likelihood of
using dating apps was significantly positively correlated with actual dating app use,
but negatively correlated with avoidant attachment. There were no significant correla-
tions between gender and likelihood of use or actual use.
Overall reports of open-ended responses about dating app preferences. Notably, people used
some types of dating apps more than others (see Table 3). Tinder was the most frequently
used dating app, which is consistent with previous research (Ayers, 2014), followed by
OkCupid, and then Plenty of Fish.
Table 2. Descriptives and Pearson correlations.
Mean (SD) 1 2 3 4 5
2. Age 29.95 (8.57) −.07
3. Likelihood 6.30 (1.60) .08 .00
4. Actual use 0.77 (0.42) .07 −.04 .64 ***
5. Anxious 3.85 (1.11) −.27*** .00 .05 .06
6. Avoidant 3.97 (1.25) −.14* −.04 −.21** −.14 .33***
Note. Likelihood = likelihood of using dating apps (1 = not at all likely, 7 = very likely). Use = Do you use
dating apps? (0 = no, 1 = yes). Gender codes: −1 = women, 1 = men.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
8 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
Table 3. Types of dating apps used and percent of people reporting they use each app.
Dating app Frequency Total
Tinder 56% 103
OkCupid 30% 54
Plenty of Fish 26% 34
Other 14% 25
Match 8% 15
eHarmony 5% 10
Bumble 4% 8
Zoosk 3% 6
Badoo 3% 5
Hinge 2% 4
Note. People were asked to list all the dating apps they use. There were 298 total responses. Frequencies
are based on the number of responses compared to the total number of participants (n = 183). Logistic
regressions were only performed on types of dating apps above 10% frequency (n = 18).
Categories for open-ended response coding, number of people endorsing categories,
and Krippendorff’s alpha for each category are reported in Table 4. “Meeting others” was
the most common category that people reported as a reason to use dating apps, whereas
“Not trusting (others online)” was the most common category that people reported as a
reason for not using dating apps.
Table 4. Categories for reasons to use or not use dating apps, number of responses coded,
and Krippendorff’s alpha (KALPHA).
Category Frequency Total KALPHA
Meet others 54% 99 .70
Convenience 28% 51 .69
Social 9% 16 .90
Fun 7% 12 .82
Sex 5% 10 .87
Bored 4% 7 .85
Personal anxiety 4% 7 .75
Trust 32% 59 .82
In person 13% 23 .83
Sex 7% 12 .85
Unable to use dating apps 6% 11 .64
No time 2% 4 .85
Don’t want to meet others 2% 4 .60
Note. Participants were asked why they would use (202 responses) and not use (113 responses) dating apps.
Frequencies are based on the number of responses compared to the total number of participants (n = 183).
Logistic regressions were only performed on types of dating apps above 10% frequency for use and not use
(n = 18).
Chin et al. 9
How is attachment orientation associated with likelihood of dating app use?
Our first set of hypotheses was that people who were higher in anxious attachment would
be more likely to report using dating apps compared to people lower in anxious attach-
ment, whereas people who were higher in avoidant attachment would be less likely to
use dating apps compared to people lower in avoidant attachment. To test these hypoth-
eses, we conducted regression analyses to assess the independent contributions of attach-
ment anxiety and avoidance to people’s reported likelihood of using dating apps to meet
romantic partners while controlling for gender.1 As shown in Table 5, anxious attachment
emerged as a significant predictor in this analysis; as predicted, more anxious people
reported being more likely to use dating apps. Consistent with our expectations and the
zero-order correlations, more avoidant people reported being less likely to use dating
apps. Consistent with our preliminary analyses, there were no significant gender differ-
ences in likeliness of using dating apps.
When we explicitly examined nonusers (i.e., people who reported that they have not
used dating apps before) and their likelihood to use dating apps, both people higher in
anxious attachment, b = −.06, SE = .25, t(37) = −0.24, ns, and people higher in avoidant
attachment, b = −.37, SE = .21, t(37) = −11.72, ns, were less likely to use dating apps,
but these values were nonsignificant.
How is attachment orientation associated with actual dating app use? Our second set of
hypotheses was that people who were higher in anxious attachment would be more
likely to be users of dating apps compared to people who were lower in anxious
attachment, and that people who were higher in avoidant attachment would be less
likely to be users of dating apps compared to people who were lower in avoidant
attachment. A logistic regression was conducted to predict actual reports of using dat-
ing apps because of the categorical nature of this outcome (0 = I do not use dating
apps, 1 = I use dating apps). We regressed attachment-related anxiety and avoidance
on the reports of actual use of dating apps while controlling for gender. As shown in
Table 6, avoidant attachment emerged as a significant predictor of reports of actual
dating app use; as predicted, the higher the person’s avoidant attachment, the less
likely they were to be users of dating apps. For every one unit increase in attachment
avoidance, the log odds of actual use of dating apps decreased by .33. Consistent with
our preliminary analyses, there were no significant gender differences in actual use of
Table 5. Multiple regression predicting likelihood of using dating apps.
b SE t
Anxious .22 .11 1.91 *
Avoidance −.31 .10 −3.18 **
Gender .14 .12 −1.17
Note. b = unstandardized regression coefficients. Gender codes: −1 = women, 1 = men. Multiple R2 = .07.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
10 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
How is attachment orientation associated with reported types of dating
We next explored whether people higher in anxious attachment and people higher in
avoidant attachment would be more likely to use particular types of dating apps. Types of
dating apps that were reported by less than 10% of the respondents (n = 18) were also
dropped from analyses due to low endorsement. Therefore, three logistic regressions were
conducted to predict type of dating app reported (Tinder, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish) because
of the categorical nature of this outcome variable (0 = dating app not reported, 1 = dating
app reported). We regressed attachment-related anxiety and avoidance on the reported
type of dating app used while controlling for gender. As shown in Table 7, more anxious
Table 6. Logistic regression predicting actual dating app use.
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety .31 .18 1.712 1.37
Avoidance −.33 .16 −2.12 .72*
Gender .18 .19 −.98 .83
Note. Dating app use measured by “Do you use dating apps?” (0 = no, 1 = yes). b = unstandardized regres-
sion coefficients. N = 183. Gender codes: −1 = women, 1 = men.
*p < .05.
Table 7. Logistic regressions predicting type of dating app used by attachment dimension and
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety .35 .16 2.22 1.42 *
Avoidance −.35 .14 −2.59 .70 *
Gender .20 .16 1.24 1.22
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety .19 .17 1.10 1.20
Avoidance .38 .15 2.58 1.46 *
Gender −.12 .18 −.69 .89
Plenty of Fish
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety .44 .20 2.16 1.55 *
Avoidance .24 .17 1.37 1.27
Gender .23 .21 1.09 1.26
Note. b = unstandardized regression coefficients. N = 183. Gender codes: −1 = women, 1 = men. *p < .05.
Chin et al. 11
people were more likely to report using Tinder and Plenty of Fish. For every one unit
increase in attachment anxiety, the odds of using Tinder increased by .35 and the odds of
using Plenty of Fish increased by .44. More avoidant people were less likely to report
using Tinder and more likely to report using OkCupid. For every one unit increase in
avoidant attachment, the odds of using Tinder decreased by .35 and the odds of using
OkCupid increased by .38. Consistent with our preliminary analyses, there were no sig-
nificant gender differences in actual use of dating apps.
By conducting separate analyses on the three types of dating apps reported, we may
have increased the likelihood of Type I error. To correct for this possibility, we com-
puted adjusted significance values using a Bonferroni procedure that corrects for the
multiple independent tests performed on a single data set. This correction results in an
adjusted p value of .02. All of the effects reported as statistically significant in the cur-
rent report surpassed this threshold, with the exception of anxious attachment for Plenty
of Fish and Tinder.
How is attachment orientation associated with reported reasons to use or
not use dating apps?
We then explored whether people higher in anxious attachment and people higher in avoid-
ant attachment reported particular reasons for using or not using dating apps. Categories
that were reported by less than 10% of the respondents (n = 18) were also dropped from
analyses because of low endorsement. Therefore, two logistic regressions were conducted
to explore whether attachment orientation was associated with reported reasons for using
dating apps (meet others; convenience), and respectively, two logistic regressions were
conducted for reasons for not using dating apps (trust; rather meet in person), because of
the categorical nature of this outcome variable (0 = reason not reported, 1 = reason
reported). We regressed attachment-related anxiety and avoidance on the reports of reasons
to use and reasons to not use dating apps while controlling for gender.
As shown in Table 8, anxious attachment and avoidant attachment emerged as signifi-
cant predictors of reports of reasons to use dating apps; more anxious people were more
likely to report “meet others,” and more avoidant people were less likely to report “meet
others,” as a reason to use dating apps. In terms of log odds, we can expect to see a .34
increase in use of dating apps for every one unit increase in anxious attachment, but a .57
decrease in use of dating apps for every one unit increase in avoidant attachment.
Consistent with our preliminary analyses, there were no significant gender differences in
actual use of dating apps. Previous research has demonstrated gender differences in
motives for using Tinder, but examined motives using forced-choice options, which
could have contributed to the emergence of these differences (Ranzini & Lutz, 2016).
By conducting separate analyses on the two categories for reasons to use and three
categories for reasons not to use dating apps, we may have increased the likelihood of
Type I error. Again, to correct for this possibility, we computed adjusted significance
values using a Bonferroni procedure that corrects for multiple independent tests per-
formed on a single data set. This correction results in an adjusted p value of .03 for rea-
son to use dating apps, and also .03 for reasons not to use dating apps. All effects reported
as statistically significant in the current report surpassed this threshold.
12 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
The goal of the present study was to examine the association between attachment orien-
tations and use of dating apps. We addressed four questions: (a) how is reported likeli-
hood of dating app use associated with anxious and avoidant attachment? (b) how are
reports of actual dating app use associated with anxious and avoidant attachment? We
expected that people who were more anxious would be more favorable towards dating
apps, and people who were more avoidant would be less favorable towards dating apps.
Further, (c) what types of dating apps are people using and how does use differ by attach-
ment orientation? Lastly, (d) what are the reported reasons for people to decide to use or
not use dating apps, and how are attachment orientations associated with these reasons?
Our study provides novel information about how attachment orientations are associated
with dating app preferences, which may shed light on the role of relationship-relevant
personality traits in modern methods of dating.
Table 8. Logistic regressions predicting reasons to use or not use dating apps.
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety .34 .17 2.06 1.40 *
Avoidance −.57 .15 −3.85 .57 ***
Gender −.13 .17 −.77 .88
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety .10 .16 .64 1.11
Avoidance .01 .14 .06 1.01
Gender .06 .18 .34 1.06
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety −.06 .16 −.40 .94
Avoidance .07 .14 .49 1.07
Gender −.38 .17 −2.26 .68 *
b SE Wald Exp β
Anxiety −.17 .21 −.80 .84
Avoidance −.05 .18 −.25 .95
Gender −.44 .23 −1.88 .64
Note. b = unstandardized regression coefficients. N = 183. Gender codes: −1 = women, 1 = men.
*p < .05. ***p < .001 after Bonferroni adjustment.
Chin et al. 13
Likelihood of using dating apps and actual use as a function of anxious
We found that people who reported higher anxious attachment reported greater likeli-
hood of dating app use than those who were lower in anxious attachment. Perhaps more
anxious people are more likely to use dating apps because dating apps increase the odds
of finding a partner while protecting them from rejection. For instance, more anxious
people have been found to indicate interest in every person they meet during speed dat-
ing sessions (McClure, Lydon, Baccus, & Baldwin, 2010). This unselective approach to
meeting others may be a strategy to increase the odds of finding a partner (i.e., they will
not miss anyone who expresses interest in them). Yet people higher in anxious attach-
ment also chronically worry about being rejected (Tidwell, Reis, & Shaver, 1996).
Perhaps dating apps protect anxious people from rejection by making rejection cues less
salient: only people who have indicated interest are shown to users.
Although anxious attachment was positively associated with reported likelihood of
using dating apps, the association between actual use of dating apps and anxious attach-
ment was not statistically significant (but was trending in the predicted direction). Few
studies have looked at attachment-related differences in actual use of dating apps, but
researchers have found that online dating was not associated with dating anxiety (Peter
& Valkenburg, 2007; Stevens & Morris, 2007), which is similar to the fear of rejection
that more anxious people experience. More anxious people are more likely to report that
they would use dating apps, which might reflect their desire to increase methods of com-
municating with potential partners; however, their fear of rejection might push them
away from actually using dating apps (Hope & Heimberg, 1990).
Likelihood of using dating apps and actual use as a function of avoidant
People who reported higher avoidant attachment reported lower likelihood of dating
app use and were less likely to be actual users of dating apps. More avoidant people
expect failure in dating interactions, show an aversion to commitment, and strive for
emotional distance (Bartholomew, 1990; Birnie, McClure, Lydon, & Holmberg, 2009;
Campbell, Simpson, Boldry, & Kashy, 2005). Thus, perhaps more avoidant people
were less likely to use dating apps because dating apps encourage them to connect
with others, which in turn provides a context for failure in dating or for possible
romantic commitment. To our knowledge, there are no studies to date that focus on
attachment orientation and dating apps, but studies on online communication may
provide insight into how more avoidant people feel about using dating apps. For
instance, people higher in avoidant attachment are less open and positive about com-
municating through online platforms such as Facebook or texting (Morey, Gentzler,
Creasy, Oberhauser, & Westerman, 2013; Oldmeadow, Quinn, & Kowert, 2013).
Perhaps future research should examine how open or positive people feel towards
communicating with others through dating apps as a mediator for whether or not peo-
ple become users of dating apps.
14 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
What types of dating apps are used as a function of attachment
More anxious people were more likely to use the dating apps Tinder and Plenty of Fish,
compared to less anxious people. Previous research has shown that attachment anxiety is
associated with more ambivalent motivations for technology use (Drouin & Landgraff,
2012). Perhaps anxious people prefer to use multiple types of dating apps, reflecting their
desire to increase their chances of finding a partner.
More avoidant people were more likely to use OkCupid, and less likely to use Tinder,
compared to less avoidant people. It is interesting that people higher in avoidant attach-
ment are more likely to use OkCupid, which might increase their chances for serious
relationships, but were less likely to use Tinder, which has a reputation for being a
“hookup” app—given that avoidant people are more accepting of casual sex (Gentzler &
Kerns, 2004; Sprecher, 2013). Perhaps people high in avoidant attachment feel safer
using OkCupid because this dating app collects an abundance of user information, which
might better tailor their matches (i.e., provides them access to more suitable potential
partners). Future research should examine how people high in avoidant attachment per-
ceive specific dating apps and whether their conceptualization of information and safety
is associated with their preference towards OkCupid. Indeed, more avoidant people may
be less likely to use dating apps in general, but when they do use them, they are not nec-
essarily using the dating apps that are stereotyped for casual sexual relations, suggesting
that they may be motivated by a desire to establish a long-term relationship.
Reasons to use dating apps as a function of attachment orientation
We gathered a range of answers from participants that were categorized into seven rea-
sons to use dating apps and six reasons not to use them. For our analyses, we dropped any
categories that were endorsed by less than 10% of the sample, and thus only retained
“meet others” and “convenience” (i.e., I use dating apps to meet others/because it is
convenient), and “trust” and “in person” (i.e., I do not use dating apps because I do not
trust people online/would rather meet people in person) as motivations to use or not use
Our results suggest that people who were higher in anxious attachment were more
likely to report “meeting others” as a reason to use dating apps than people lower in
anxious attachment. If more anxious people in our sample consider “meeting others” as
a reason to use dating apps, perhaps they believe meeting others decreases their chances
of being single. This would be consistent with previous research that suggests that anx-
ious people are more likely to fear being single (Spielmann et al., 2013).
People higher in avoidant attachment were less likely report “meeting others” as a
reason to use dating apps than people lower in avoidant attachment. We assumed that
people higher in avoidant attachment would be less motivated to use dating apps to meet
others, given that highly avoidant people have a tendency to avoid closeness and strive
to maintain independence (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003). This also fits with their ten-
dency to disengage from intimacy (Simpson et al., 1992). More avoidant people were
less enthusiastic about using dating apps to meet others, but it is worth noting that effects
are relatively small and it may be the case that more avoidant people would like to be in
Chin et al. 15
a relationship (given that they are in fact using these apps) but perhaps not as much as
anxious people. The current findings provide insight into how avoidant attachment is
related to desire for intimacy in online contexts.
Using dating apps for “convenience” and not using dating apps due to “lack of trust”
or wanting to meet people “in person” were not significantly associated with either anx-
ious or avoidant attachment orientations. It is interesting to note that categories such as
fun and sex (i.e., I use dating apps for fun/sex) were endorsed by less than 10% of the
sample, given that dating apps have a popular hook-up reputation (Allan, 2015). Future
studies could further examine whether the use of dating apps leads to an increase in actual
number of dates or decrease in likelihood of being single compared to offline dating.
Limitations and future directions
It is important to consider our findings in light of the limitations of our study. First, our
study is correlational, which prevents us from making causal inferences as to whether
attachment orientation causes people to use online methods to meet romantic partners.
We have argued that people higher in anxious attachment are more likely to use dating
apps. However, differences in use of online methods to meet romantic partners could be
an antecedent to changes in attachment orientation. Using dating apps to meet romantic
partners could foster more anxious behaviors, such as being unselective in showing inter-
est to others in real life, or perhaps creating more fleeting relationships (Yeo & Fung,
2017). In contrast, using dating apps to meet romantic partners could also lead to a
decrease in anxious behaviors. For instance, people higher in anxious attachment who
use dating apps may show a decrease in fear of rejection when they see multiple oppor-
tunities for potential partners. Future studies could assign people higher in anxious
attachment to use dating apps and examine whether they show attachment-consistent
behaviors or attachment-related changes in behavior after using dating apps.
Further, this research explored attachment orientations and reported dating app use, but
it did not assess frequency of dating app use or intensity with which people used them.
Investigating these questions through self-report or behavioral means would provide a
more complete understanding as to whether attachment orientations are associated with
our behavior in using dating apps. In addition, future researchers could examine the effects
of dating app use on real life behavior. People higher in anxious attachment may become
less uncomfortable with face-to-face interactions after experiencing (and practicing)
meeting others through dating apps. Indeed, individual differences in attachment orienta-
tion are associated with preferences in dating apps, and it would be of interest to see
whether our technology-driven world has implications for our reality (Arvidsson, 2006).
Moreover, although we asked people about their reasons for using or not using dating
apps in general, we did not ask why they chose to use the particular dating app they listed.
Given that there are a wide range of motivations to use dating apps and that preferences
may change over time (Ward, 2017), future studies should explore the association
between attachment orientation and people’s responses to why they use certain dating
apps. This can help us understand what aspects of dating apps avoidant and anxious
people find appealing or unattractive, which may further reflect their attachment charac-
teristics (e.g., perhaps more anxious people choose particular dating apps because they
believe they give a higher success rate for relationships) in online contexts.
16 Mobile Media & Communication 00(0)
The current study demonstrates an association between individual differences in attach-
ment style and use of dating apps. The current findings also begin to address insecurely
attached people’s motivations to use online methods to meet others. The use of technol-
ogy has dramatically increased over the past decade, and has become a mainstream way
for people to meet romantic partners. Identifying personality traits that influence our
online technology use is the first step towards understanding how our personality, rela-
tionships, and online behavior intersect. Indeed, dating apps may be influencing the ways
in which we can proactively search for romantic partners, dictate our preferences, and
influence our behavioral choices in mates.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or
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Chin et al. 19
Kristi Chin is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. She
received her MSc from the University of Western Ontario in 2016. Her research interests include
the study of intimacy in close relationships and specifically, how individual differences in attach-
ment orientations influence psychological and physiological outcomes during emotional and phys-
ical intimacy. She has been awarded the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship,
and is currently a SSHRC doctoral fellowship recipient at the University of Michigan.
Robin Edelstein is an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. She received
her PhD in Social/Personality Psychology from the University of California, Davis in 2005, and
spent 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine before working at the
University of Michigan. Her work is devoted to understanding individual differences in people’s
approaches to and experiences in close relationships; how these differences develop and change
over time and across the lifespan; and the implications of these differences for interpersonal,
dyadic, and physiological outcomes. Her current projects focus on the physiological and health
implications of defensive personality traits such as attachment avoidance and narcissism; lifespan
changes in these traits; and links between hormones and romantic relationship processes.
Philip A. Vernon is a professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of
Western Ontario, where he has worked since receiving his PhD from the University of California
at Berkeley in 1982. His research interests include behavioral genetics, intelligence and cognitive
abilities, and personality and individual differences. He has edited three books, has over 160 pub-
lications in peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at conferences around the world. He is for-
mer President of the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences and served as
Editor-In-Chief for Personality and Individual Differences.