Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Online dating motivation and gender

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Online dating motivation and gender:
  How do males and females differ in their motivations to use online dating?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1: Love Padlocks on Butcher's bridge

Online dating platforms have become increasingly popular with internet and mobile applications being developed which enable individuals to engage and form different types of relationships with other online dating users[factual?]. Reeve defines motivation as ‘...a force that gives energy and direction towards the pursuit of a specific goal which is either externally or internally influenced’ (Reeve, 2009) shaped and driven by an individual's unique composition internal and external motives including biological, psychological, cognitive and environmental forces (Beck, 2000). Supporting this, contemporary theories of motivation are based upon this, that people initiate and persist as behaviours to the extent that they believe the behaviours will lead to desired outcomes or goals (Deci & Ryan, 2000)

‘.....Motivation researchers explore the psychological value people ascribe to goals, people’s expectations about attaining goals and the mechanisms that keep people moving towards selected goals’ (Deci & Ryan, 2000)

"Online dating refers to a form of interpersonal relationship that is initiated in a computer-mediated communication context and may transition to a more intimate communication channel, i.e., telephone and face-to-face interaction" (Clemens, Atkin & Krishnan, 2015). Online dating is a platform used to form a variety of connections and relationships including friendships, romantic and sexual relationships. Different online dating sites and applications have been developed to cater for a diverse range of people, catering for different sexualities; e.g. heterosexuals, homosexuals and transgender, for different types of relationships; e.g. friendships, casual sex, committed relationships, polygamy and even catering for different types of fetishes and fantasies.

Motivations behind using online dating platforms vary,[grammar?] this chapter aims to differentiate the motivations individuals have to participate in online dating through evaluating different motivational theories i.e. expectancy value theory, evolution theory, sexual selection theory, Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the hormone differences between the genders to decipher the potential motivations behind the individual's engagement with these platforms.

Expectancy-Value Theory[edit | edit source]

Expectancy-value theory explains that behaviour and the intensity of behaviour is a function of self efficacy, perceived competency, perception of the difficulty of the task and value of the goal (Zinkman & Close, 2004). Values affect how individuals enter different types of relationships, and how they operate within the established relationship (Zinkman & Close, 2004).

Figure 2: Scales.

Higher levels of self-efficacy in an individual is characterised by having increase motivation and success in tasks that they engage in (Zinkman & Close, 2004). Confidence combined with value in a task makes an individual more likely to persist and work towards achieving a goal/outcome (Zinkman & Close, 2004). Though this is the case, an individual who may have lower levels of self-efficacy may find that though not confident in succeeding in regard to task/ goal outcome, motivation has a greater influence on the individual's behaviour, not their their perceived ability. A person's interest leads to persistence at a task, which builds confidence and self-efficacy (Zinkman & Close, 2004).

An individual’s goals may hold different levels of importance, all for different reasons.  Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are much to do with these differences (Zinkman & Close, 2004).

Table 1: Expectancy Value Theory, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation Characteristics

Intrinsic motivation

  • Enjoyable, interested, pleasurable.

Extrinsic motivation

  • Seeking a higher/rewarding outcome e.g. validation, security, money or avoiding punishment

Information in table sourced from: Zinkman and Close, 2004

Regarding motivation [missing something?] use online dating platforms, a person for example who enjoys meeting new people, dating or places a lot of value in finding a mate uses intrinsic motivation. Whereas a person uses extrinsic motivation when there is an ulterior motive, for example, financial gain or social status[grammar?].

The Evolution Theory and Environmental Influences[edit | edit source]

Men and women from an evolutionary perspective differ due to sex specific mechanisms and social roles. Men and women commonly occupy different social roles (Eagly & Wood, 1999). As a result of this, men and women become psychologically different from adjusting to these roles (Eagly & Wood, 1999).

Figure 3. Traditional social structures, [grammar?] males were predominately[spelling?] 'hunters' and woman, 'gatherers'.

Evolutionary psychologists support the principle of social structure, that environmental conditions can influence the development of evolved disposition (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Men and women face different situations, which vary across societies, historical periods and social organisation changes regarding technological innovations, ecological and other environmental changes (Eagly & Wood, 1999).

The physical differences between males and females interact with cultural beliefs, social organisation and role assignment in communities (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Women are childbearers, whereas men traditionally have greater size and strength. From this perspective, it is deemed inevitable the sex differences produce psychological and physiological differences.

A society's division of labor between males and females is the vehicle of sex differences in behaviours (Eagly & Wood, 1999). It [what?] summarises the social constraints; differing restrictions and opportunities. The gender differences are not simply a matter of nature versus nurture, rather, sex differences and evolved psychological tendencies which were built in through genetic adaptation to primeval conditions (Eagly & Wood, 1999)[grammar?].

Sexual Selection Theory[edit | edit source]

Sex differences in parental investment regarding reproductive success differed between the genders. Men devoted larger proportion of their mating efforts to short term mating than do women, deeming the male sex more promiscuous (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Males have the potential to produce unlimited offspring. Men tend to choose young and attractive partners to ensure reliable fertility, as women's fertility declines with age. In contrast, women devote more of their mating efforts to long term (Eagly & Wood, 1999).Traditionally, women are highly discriminating and require partners who are willing to commit to her and the protection of her child. Women also choose partners who have the most access to material resources to ensure security. Due to woman’s fertilisation being concealed, men are unable to determine genetic relatedness. As an adaption, ‘Men ostensibly adapted to this problem of paternity uncertainty by exerting sexual control over women and developing sexual jealousy and a motive to control women's sexuality’(Eagly & Wood, 1999).

Emotional State[edit | edit source]

There are three categories of emotional states that encourage reproductive behaviours (Fisher, et al, 2002) Pinpointing romantic love and sexual desire in relation to this theory and the evolutionary perspective indicates that each of these categories serves the same purpose, maximising reproductive behaviours. These categories are made up of the libidio (sex drive), attraction and attachment (Fisher et al, 2002). These emotional states have been hardwired and have become instinct for the survival of mankind.

Silverman states that females invest more heavily in childrearing than do males, and they maximise their reproductive success by seeking makes who can provide for their offspring with both good genes and with resources i.e. food and protection (Silverman, 2003). Whereas, males maximise their reproductive success by seeking to impregnate as many females as possible[grammar?]. (Silverman, 2003)

Table 2: Characteristics of the Three Emotion States

Emotional State Characteristics


  • Strong desire for sexual gratification
  • Need/want for intimacy
  • Seek out sexual partner capable of reproduction

Attraction system

  • Increased interest in desired partner
  • High levels of positive affect when in contact with desired partner
  • Regularly thinking about their partner
  • Craving partner’s presence
  • Discrimination against sexual partner; ability to decipher whether they are a suitable mate

Adult attachment system

  • Feeling of calmness and comfort when in presence of romantically involved partner.
  • Relationship- long term love, companionate love
  • Security and emotional union
  • Motivates individuals to maintain connectedness with partner to complete parental duties.

Information for table sourced from Fisher, 2012.

From an evolutionary perspective, these different categories of emotional states differentiate love from desire[how?]. It is the premise of motivation to reproduce.

Hormones[edit | edit source]

‘sex-differentiated psychological mechanisms and developmental programs, like other adaptations, are genetic, hereditary, or inherited in the sense that … their structured design has its characteristic form because of the information in our DNA ... factors trigger biochemical processes that mediate psychological sex differences, especially by means of sex differences in hormone production’ (Eagly & Wood, 1999).

Hormones can be considered the means by which many organisms realise the allocation of effort and resources toward various evolutionary relevant ends (Hooper, Gangestad, Thompson & Bryan, 2011)

Figure 4. Testosterone
Testosterone[edit | edit source]

Testosterone is an important sex hormone that is believed to be responsible for regulating libido. It is produced by both males and females, though, higher amounts are produced by the male sex (Hooper, Gangestad, Thompson & Bryan, 2011). Testosterone is produced in smaller amounts in women's bodies mostly by the ovaries and adrenal glands. Testosterone is responsible for the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs and is essential for the production of sperm (Hooper, Gangestad, Thompson & Bryan, 2011). The reduction of testosterone occurs naturally as the human ages.

Research has indicated that higher levels of testosterone increase mating efforts, or competing for new mating opportunities (Hooper, Gangestad, Thompson & Bryan, 2011). Whereas, lower levels of testosterone are associated with reduced mating efforts, increased investment in longevity and increased willingness ability to care for partners and offspring (Hooper, Gangestad, Thompson & Bryan, 2011).

Oestrogen[edit | edit source]

Oestrogen is a predominant sex hormone in the female body (National Women's Health Resource Center, 2016).The main function of this hormone is to facilitate the maintenance and maturing of the female reproductive system. During a female’s menstruation cycle, the hormone is in charge of thickening the uterus lining which assists the egg in the fertilisation process (National Women's Health Resource Center, 2016). A female's sex drive is at its peak in the ovulation period, which is a window in the cycle where they are most fertile.

Maslow and Self Determination[edit | edit source]

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory based upon humanistic principles (Maslow, 1943). A person will strive to reach their full potential as a basic human motivation. Represented in a pyramid, the base of the pyramid is the most fundamental need, being physiological needs of an individual. All other human needs work progressively up the pyramid (Maslow, 1943).

Figure 5. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Human motivation requires a consideration of innate physiological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness. It applies to need theories, i.e. Maslow's hierarchy, with the emphasis that needs specify the conditions for growth, integrity and wellbeing. Individual’s goal pursuits are associated with their functioning and wellbeing, revolving around the concept of human needs and ultimately to fulfill satisfaction (Deci & Ryan, 2000). It is important to note that behaviour can consist of more than one motivation, the motivated behaviour is a means by which basic needs can be appropriately expressed or satisfied (Maslow, 1943).

Social contexts and individual differences sway different needs and desires and can be dependent on cultural values and evolutionary processes (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Put simplistically, a person who acquires and achieves a goal feel fulfilled which facilitates growth leading to motivated behaviours and integration of extrinsic motivations. Whereas, a person who forestalls autonomy, competence or relatedness are characterised as having poorer motivation, performance and wellbeing (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Table 3: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological needs Physiological needs are the basis of human survival, these being what the body requires to survive i.e. air, nutrition, water, shelter and clothing. This is the base of structure, being the most fundamental of human needs.

Safety Once an individual’s physiological needs have been fulfilled, they are inclined to satisfy the basic need of ‘safety’. Safety includes security across many different domains including but not limited to; health, family, law, and finances. In an individual who feels threatened, higher order needs seize until safety is satisfied.

Belongingness and love First of the Higher order needs

Graduating from physiological and safety needs being fulfilled follows the human need of ‘love and belonging’. This is a high order need, it involves emotionally based relationships which include family, friendships, romantic and intimate relationship. Individuals have the "hunger for the affectionate relations with people", This need motivates people to seek different types relationships to feel belongingness and love. In the absence of this need, people can fall susceptible to mental health issues including social anxieties and depression.

Esteem Higher order need

Following love and belonging, the second high order need is esteem. Esteem is broken up into two components, reputation and self-esteem. Self esteem is a person's desire for accomplishment and self respect. Reputation is a person’s desire for social status, recognition and attention. These two together, when both fulfilled lead to a person feeling valued, and confident. When this need is unfulfilled, the repercussions can lead a person to feel inferior, which can be associated with negative well being.

Self actualisation Higher order need

At the top of the pyramid, the last of the higher needs falls self actualisation. This need is characterised by an individual’s quest to reaching their full potential. It has a unique trait, that the need can never be fully satisfied. A person grows psychologically as they experience and acquire new knowledge, their desire and motivation for growth still maintains and is ongoing. By reaching self actualisation, a person has satisfied all other basic needs.

Information in table sources from Maslow, 1943

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Social roles over the centuries have influenced society's 'norms', indicating that genders play different roles. Women are childbearers, whereas men traditionally have greater size and strength. From this perspective, it is deemed inevitable that the different sexes produce psychological and physiological differences. On the other hand, motivation to engage in online dating differs for each individual[factual?], but there is strong evidence to suggest that individuals may be influenced by the inflicted social roles and norms for the different genders[factual?]. The different motivational theories mentioned throughout this chapter indicate that there are diverse reasonings behind one's motivation, whether it be intrinsically motivated, whether to fulfil a need or for any other reason to feel motivated to engage in online dating.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Clemens, C., Atkin, D., & Krishnan, A. (2015). The influence of biological and personality traits on gratifications obtained through online dating websites. Computers In Human Behavior49, 120-129.

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2000). The "What" and "Why" of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior. Psychological Inquiry11(4), 227-268.

Eagly, A., & Wood, W. (1999). The origins of sex differences in human behavior: Evolved dispositions versus social roles. American Psychologist, 54(6), 408-423.

Fisher, H.E., Aron, A., Mashek, D., Li, H. & Brown, L.L. (2002), Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction and attachment, Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 31(5), 413-419. DOI: 10.1023/A:1019888024255

Hooper, A., Gangestad, S., Thompson, M., & Bryan, A. (2011). Testosterone and romance: The association of testosterone with relationship commitment and satisfaction in heterosexual men and women. American Journal Of Human Biology, 23(4), 553-555.

Maslow, A. H. 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, Vol. 50, p.370-396.

National Women's Health Resource Center. (2016). Progesterone. Retrieved from

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Silverman, I. (2003). Gender Differences in Delay of Gratification: A Meta-Analysis. Sex Roles49. Retrieved from

Sumter, S., Vandenbosch, L. and Ligtenberg, L. (2017). Love me Tinder: Untangling emerging adults’ motivations for using the dating application Tinder. Telematics and Informatics, 34(1), pp.67-78.

Oswalt, S. B. (2010). Beyond Risk: Examining College Students' Sexual Decision Making. American Journal Of Sexuality Education5(3), 217-239. doi:10.1080/15546128.2010.503859

Zinkman, G., & Close, A. (2004). Romance and the Internet: The E-Mergence of E-Dating. Advances In Consumer Research31, 153-157. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]