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Yes, Men Always Swipe Right: The Game Theory Of Tinder

Single men looking for women on Tinder don't just swipe right often, they swipe right always. But don't blame us, blame that John Nash guy Russell Crowe played in A Beautiful Mind , and Tinder ... and the women on Tinder (and us).

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I'm a single man looking to meet women on Tinder, and I don't just swipe right often, I swipe right always. What's more, I'm usually doing something else while swiping right (watching tv, writing this article ... pretending to listen to a boring date) and not even looking at my phone as I do it. That may sound unusual, but it's actually what men are encouraged to do by how Tinder works and how women use it. In fact, the science of Game Theory says that doing anything else would be a waste of our time.

About Tinder

For the few of you who haven't contributed to its amazing usage stats, Tinder is a dating app that lets you window shop for human companionship. You're presented with a steady stream of photos of people in your area and specified age range/gender(s) which you then judge superficially by either swiping right ("like") or left ("nope"). Two people can message each other only if they have mutually swiped right.

In the initial interface you're only shown one photo, and a count of how many Facebook friends and liked pages you have in common. Clicking on the main photo allows you to see more photos (or sometimes just an ad for some nude cam girl's site) along with a brief description and the details of your friends and likes.

Via Edited Tinder Screenshot

PROTIP: too many group photos can turn your Tinder profile into a murder mystery where I have to flip through them all to know who you are. “So it was her all along!”

Confessions of a Right-Swiper

When I first started using Tinder, I treated each right-swipe as a precious gesture, only to be given to the best of the best. I would click to see more photos, read their description and carefully consider if I should formally announce my romantic intentions or not. After a few days of using Tinder this way, I got so few matches (zero unless you count a viral marketing attempt for The Mindy Project) that I began to swipe right with abandon just to make sure the app even worked. Once I had become a right-swiper, there was no turning back. I quickly realized that this was a superior strategy that gave me all the benefits of being selective in way less time.

The Theory of Tinder

At the heart of Game Theory is the concept of Nash Equilibria, which were first defined by John Nash, (as played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind*). Simply put, two rational individuals who are playing a game against each other will eventually settle on strategies for which neither player would benefit by a change in their strategy alone. This does not mean that those two strategies necessarily give the best outcome possible for either player (see The Prisoner's Dilemma), just that neither player can get a better outcome by altering how they're playing. These equilibria come naturally from the fact that if either player is in a position where they would benefit by a change in their own strategy, they will make that change because they are trying to win. The other player will then react and this will continue until both players settle on strategies that they both have no motivation to change, given how their opponent is playing the game**.

To look at Tinder from a Game Theory perspective, we simply need to assign payoffs (or costs) to certain actions and outcomes. When I swipe right as fast as I can, I go through approximately one profile per 0.7 seconds, so let's round that up and call the cost of insta-swiping: -1.0 second. Then when I happen to get a match, I actually look at that woman's profile and take the time to consider if I want to message them. If not, I just click "unmatch" and they are then unable to contact me. By always swiping right, I'm only putting in the effort of being selective when a woman has already matched with me, and that's the key.

The only way being a right-swiper could be a bad idea is if I matched so often that the time cost of insta-swiping and then considering was greater than the time cost of just considering every profile up front. I did the math*** and if considering a profile takes two seconds (twice as long as insta-swiping) I should still insta-swipe if less than 50% of women are swiping right on my profile. Taking four seconds to consider each profile would only make sense if 75% of women swiped right on me. Perhaps there are some men out there getting those kind of results on Tinder, but I am not one of them.

Because men are so liberal with their matching, women open up Tinder and get a match nearly every time they swipe right. This motivates them to be even more selective than they might otherwise be, lest they become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of matches. So the behavior of men reinforces the behavior of women and vice versa ... bingo, we have an equilibrium.

Tinder claims that it creates experiences that are "designed to emulate and advance real world interactions". If that is their goal, I have an idea: they should accept the equilibrium they've created and give men the option to auto-match every woman that is into them. Perhaps they could even make some money on the side by co-branding this feature with the real-life analog men use to announce their promiscuity : Axe Body Spray.

Footnotes

*One of the opening scenes involves Nash sort of coming up with the idea of equilibria due his analysis of why he and his friends would be foolish to all hit on the hottest woman in a group of friends. The film is not the best at being accurate about Game Theory, nor schizophrenia, but they don't hand out Oscars for accuracy.

**I'm being loose with the language here to make this more approachable. If you, curious footnote reader, actually want to know more about the fundamentals of Game Theory, please watch this video which analyzes a modified version of Rock Paper Scissors and walks through how you solve for the equilibria.

***Math alert:

Let the variable X represent the number of seconds it takes me to consider a profile. Insta-swiping is efficient unless I get so many matches that the cost of 1.0 seconds + X seconds is greater than the cost of just spending X seconds to consider everyone up front. If we let the variable W represent the percentage of time that women swipe right on my profile, this gives us that I should always swipe right so long as:

1.0 + X * W < X

which reduces to

1.0 < X(1 - W)

X = 2.0 gives us W >= 50%

X = 4.0 gives us W >= 75%

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