Dating in the dark: why online romance could be safer than we think

Media release

13 February 2023

With online scams and catfishing increasing, it may feel safer to avoid online dating apps, but recent research shows that people with darker personality traits prefer meeting their romantic partners in person rather than online.

Researchers from Deakin University's School of Psychology found that people with elevated dark tetrad (D4) personality traits, such as psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sadism, show a preference for meeting partners face-to-face.

The team surveyed nearly 500 men and women aged between 18 and 70, measuring their D4 personality traits, their dating preferences (what they're looking for in a partner and preferred dating method), and any past dating experiences, positive or negative.

Lead author Dr Richelle Mayshak said initial research suggested that people who preferred using face-to-face dating methods over online dating apps, and those who scored higher in grandiose narcissism, were more likely to engage in anti-social dating behaviours like harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and physical or verbal aggression.

"When asking participants to explain what they were looking for in their dating experiences, it appears that those with dark personality traits wanted many of the same connections as their lighter personality trait counterparts," Dr Mayshak said.

"For example, people with elevated D4 traits often expressed the desire to find long-term partnerships, valued connecting with others, and enjoyed the physical contact and material benefits of face-to-face meetings.

"They also expressed unhappiness with the deceptive dating practices associated with online dating, which may be associated with a desire to manipulate and control their potential dating partners in ways that are more difficult online."

Dr Mayshak said it was important to unpack and understand the motivations behind antisocial behaviour by those who are often labelled as perpetrators but are also more likely to report problems with their dating experiences.

"Individuals with elevated D4 traits are often perceived as abusers, yet people high on these traits, especially women, reported many instances of online and offline dating victimisation, expressed frustration and concerns pertaining to deliberate misrepresentation on the part of their dating partners, and revealed a high sensitivity to rejection," Dr Mayshak said.

"We've also found that people scoring higher in psychopathy may be more likely to report experiencing coercive controlling behaviours (e.g., manipulation, intimidation, gaslighting) in their face-to-face dating interactions, suggesting a need to further explore these experiences."

Dr Mayshak said exploring the links between darker personality traits and dating practices helps us better understand the motivations behind antisocial dating behaviours and may assist in reducing the experience of socially problematic behaviours in the future.

For further reference see Dating in the dark: A qualitative examination of dating experiences in dark tetrad personalities and  To swipe or not to swipe: The Dark Tetrad and risks associated with mobile dating app use

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Media release Faculty of Health, School of Psychology