My motivation for conducting this study, presented as a research question, is to explore: What are the pre-match impression management practices of Tinder users? For this paper, I draw on the impression management literature, keeping in mind the relevance of a technologically mediated dating environment. Interview analysis is followed by a conclusion and discussion.
Impression management on dating apps
Goffman ( 1959 ) classically argues that individuals attempt to control or guide others’ impressions by manipulating setting, appearance, and behavior. According to Leary and Kowalski ( 1990 ), there are two key processes in impression management. First, there is impression motivation, ‘when people become motivated to engage in particular self-presentation behaviors’ (Leary, 1995 , p. 53). Past research has established that in the context of mediated dating environments, users are highly motivated to control the impression they create (Ellison et al., 2012; Koestner Wheeler, 1988 ; Kramer Winter, 2008 ; Toma, Hancock, Ellison, 2008 ; Zytko et al., 2014 ). This high motivation can be illustrated in how users are sometimes tempted to present themselves in idealized ways. For example, researchers have found that women have the tendency to decrease their reported weight, while men dating burmese girls increase their reported height, and men are more likely to exaggerate their income levels (Feingold, 1990 ; Gonzales Meyers, 1993 ; Hall et al., 2010 ; Harrison Saeed, 1977 ; Toma Hancock, 2010 ). The second process of impression management is impression construction: when people explicitly choose the impression they want to make and decide the method they will use to create it. Researchers have elaborated on a number of these construction methods. For example, Leary ( 1995 ) discusses self-descriptions, attitude statements, social associations, and deception. Tinder users engage in impression construction when deciding which pictures and text to include, and which strategies to use during this process.
The environment, however, is key: Goffman’s initial work on self-presentation focused on face-to-face communication. Numerous scholars have adapted Goffman’s ideas to electronic environments, though still in an interpersonal context (e.g., Miller, 1995 ; Papacharissi, 2002 ; Tufekci, 2008 ). According to boyd and Ellison ( 2007 ), a social network site is a
web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. (p. 211)
In this paper, I focus on self-presentation in earlier stages of impression management: In a setting like a dating app, where the potential of romantic encounters loom, users must first be motivated to create a profile before interacting with others. At the same time, others’ impressions are key. On Tinder, users are only provided with positive reinforcement in the form of a mutual match. Users are not explicitly aware of who has rejected them.
Within this environment, users construct a profile, observe how others have constructed their profiles, and choose potential matches based on these profiles. On Tinder, this process takes place in an environment that is defined by (1) reduced cues and increased control in profile construction; (2) local proximity of matches; and (3) a minimal filtering process, where Tinder users are exposed to all other users in a geographical, age, and sex-defined area, and must navigate through these potential matches by swiping.
Reduced cues and increased control
Dating app users operate in a reduced cue environment, where cues are static and not dynamic. Walther’s hyperpersonal model emphasizes that in such an online environment, individuals have increased control over self-presentationmunication is asynchronous and it cannot rely on nonverbal communication cues, which are harder for individuals to control. Thus, users can more easily adapt their self-presentation in an online environment like Tinder as compared with face-to-face communication (Walther, 1996 ). This is the case on more general social networking sites such as Facebook (Lampe, Ellison, Steinfield, 2007 ) and particularly true in relation to online dating (Ellison et al., 2006 , 2012 ; Hall et al., 2010 ; Manning, 2014 ; Toma Hancock, 2010 ). Ellison et al. ( 2006 ) discuss how online daters are able to optimize their self-presentation and establish credibility in this environment by balancing ‘accuracy with self-promotions and desirability’ (p. 430). Hardey ( 2002 ) also notes ‘users feel obliged [to] anchor their on-line identity in their off-line embodied self’ (p. 579).