When we started this research project, people-nearby applications were still relatively new and largely understudied. Unlike typical web-based online dating sites (e.g., eHarmony, Match, OkCupid, etc.), people-nearby apps are distinct for their ability to immediately translate connections established online to offline spaces – a unique, “mixed-mode” feature that prompted our investigation.
Of these apps, Grindr was designed specifically for gay and bisexual men, and has been widely recognized as the “gay hook-up app” – a sentiment maintained by even the app’s creators. Having made its way to nearly 200 countries and with thousands of new users downloading the app every day, Grindr was one of the earliest and most popular people-nearby apps on the market. Yet, little research had been done to understand how people used it. In fact, a bulk of the research regarding gay men and their dating habits has focused on unsafe sexual practices and disease transmission.
In order to shed light on this, we set out to investigate how and why people use Grindr---what purposes, or gratifications, did Grindr serve? In two anonymous studies, we asked Grindr users about their specific motivations for its use. In addition, we included questions about their levels of self-disclosure and recorded IP-address information in order to gather some basic geographic information.
Our studies uncovered six key gratifications of the app: social inclusion/approval, sex, friendship/network, entertainment, romantic relationships, and location-based searching. Ultimately, these results revealed that Grindr is used for a variety of reasons – not just sex. This study also suggests that Grindr users are more or less likely to provide honest information about themselves depending on what they’re hoping to gain from using the app – sex versus a romantic partnership. On top of that, users were found to have significantly different motivations for using Grindr depending if they were living in an urban area (WeHo or the Castro) versus suburban or rural areas (Topeka, KS).
Now that we know more about why people are using Grindr, what effect might these functions of Grindr be having on its users? More recently, Gawker published a piece detailing how users’ feelings about Grindr have begun to change. This feeling of social inclusion and approval is something that people crave—the story suggests that users worry about developing a dependency on feelings of approval, or what our participants called an “ego-boost.” The verdict is still out on whether or not this kind of gratification is good or bad, but it is happening. Now that these apps have been around for a few years, we can and should reflect on how their use may be impacting both our romantic and social relationships, in addition to our own self-perception.
About the author: I conducted this study as an undergraduate member of the SMART Labs under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Tong. Currently, I’m working toward my Master’s degree in communication at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where I continue to pursue research in this field. Specifically, my research interests focus on how mixed-mode communication technologies, people-nearby and mobile dating applications affect relational development and discourse.