Inside the Tinder Box

Inside the Tinder Box

Inside the Tinder Box

By Petra Eros

Online dating is a widespread and important phenomenon, which has significantly changed the face of social relationships. Digital applications like Tinder enable users to get in contact with numerous possible partners with minimal effort.

It offers similar addictive qualities of appealing design, interactive features like swiping and image-oriented navigation, as do other mobile games, and gambling devices like slot machines.

In Inside the Tinder Box, Petra Eros digests her own Tinder interaction histories to visualise and reveal how these mechanisms operate. The exploration of this digital debris affirms the platforms inherent affective power on our perception of time as revealed in Petra’s usage patterns over multiple years.


The title Inside the Tinder box makes a reference to the Skinner box, in other name, operant conditioning chambers, which enabled early behaviour scientists to study the principles of animal behaviour in a completely controlled environment. An animal can be rewarded or punished for engaging in certain behaviors, therefore conditioning and training through reward/punishment mechanisms. Online systems are a lot like digital Skinner boxes, through their designed they gain absolute control over not just every stimulus available to you but virtually all your response options.

In operant conditioning, behavioural scientists have researched different schedules of reinforcement. The one, which Tinder operates on is the variable-ratio reinforcement, meaning that the user is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably … Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.


[1] Vieira, Helena. 'Apps like Tinder commodify the intangible'. [online]

[2] Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas, 'The Tinder effect: psychology of dating in the techno sexual era' [online]

[3] Degen, Johanna & Keeberg-Niepage,Andrea. 'The More We Tinder: Subjects, Selves and Society'. [online]

[5] David, Gabbie & Cambre, Carolina. 'Screened Intimacies: Tinder and Swipe Logic'. [online]

[4] Wordie, Fred. 'An Unscientific Investigation of Tinder's Algorythm'. [online]

[6]Robertson, Ronald E. 'The 21st century Skinner box'.[online]



Tinder has 10,8 MB data on me. It includes every single photo I have ever uploaded to my profile, every single character I have ever typed and sent to someone. Every one of my hand movement, known as swipes, have been meticulously logged too. To my surprise, they also have kept a record on how many times per day I have opened the app, whenever I felt the need for human contact, or simply… when I was bored.

Tinder page request to download your data.
Requested data formatted as an index.html with a simple navigation.
Requested data formatted as an index.html with a simple navigation.
Backend of data: everything is collected into a json file.
Backend of data: everything is collected into a json file.

Public access to my Tinder usage data

Prototypes & Experiments

In the first phase of my research, I have been very intrigued to explore if there if I could find any correlation between my Tinder use and the cycle of the Moon. Centuries long, people have firmly believed, just as the gravitational pull affects sea levels, it also alters human behaviour.

Many still believes nowadays, that certain psychologic pathologies, such as maniac episodes and psychosis can be triggered by the power of the full moon.

Unfortunately, my Tinder activity data haven’t revealed any correlation of cyclical behaviour, and I have failed to meaningfully build a convincing bridge between, therefore in the second phase I was focusing more on the dark design patterns on which Tinder operates.