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Research

Swipe Left on Dating Stereotypes

Study Reveals Fewer Romances, Little Difference Between App, In-Person Pairings

By Karen Shih ’09

Illustration of a turtle on a dating app

A pre-pandemic survey of University of Maryland students about their dating experiences, conducted by a UMD psychology lecturer, contains surprising findings.

Illustration by Lauren Biagini

Think of college and you might picture telltale “go away” socks hung on doorknobs and parties with hookup opportunities galore.

But a new study from Dylan Selterman, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology, and Sydney Gideon ’17 paints a different picture of dating life at the University of Maryland.

In a pre-pandemic survey of nearly 800 students over a one-month period, just 60% reported having any romantic encounter during that time—and the majority of those said they only had one date. (Dates were broadly defined, including everything from a one-night stand to grabbing a bubble tea.)

“You have a population that’s really interested in sex and dating, but having trouble finding it,” said Selterman.

For psychology researchers, however, the findings aren’t surprising. “Studies show that young adults today are less sexually active than previous generations,” he said.

The UMD study, which will be published in Computers in Human Behavior, also compared outcomes based on whether students met in person or via dating app. “Our data showed negative perceptions of dating apps, but the reality is, the experiences people had on dates or hookups were pretty similar,” said Gideon. Students found their dates just as attractive on physical and personality levels.

But attitudes toward apps could be changing since the survey was conducted in 2015. “COVID turned the entire population romantically desperate. There’s nowhere to meet people offline if there’s nowhere to go,” Gideon said.

Selterman is curious if the spike in online dating was purely out of necessity, or if it reflects a true paradigm shift. He hopes to replicate the study post-pandemic to find out. “It’s fascinating, trying to solve this puzzle of how to create meaningful connections between people.”

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