Love me, love my horse: Pets weave their magic on dating apps

It would appear that the displaying of animal photos serves to communicate aspects of the user that play an important role in online dating.
It would appear that the displaying of animal photos serves to communicate aspects of the user that play an important role in online dating. Image by JackieLou DL

Animals, including horses, play a role in online dating, researchers have concluded in a just-published study.

Online dating applications offer new ways for people to search for social contacts.

Researchers Christian Dürnberger and Svenja Springer said previous studies have indicated that including animals in profiles can increase users’ dating success rates.

However, the question of how many users display animals, and what kinds of animal are shown, has not yet been investigated.

They used an account on the popular dating app Tinder to look at the use of animal pictures by users in Vienna and Tokyo. They also looked for patterns – whether cultural background (Vienna versus Tokyo), gender, age and sexual orientation affected the use of animal pictures.

In total, 2400 Tinder profiles across the two cities were examined.

The pair, reporting in the journal Animals, found that 15.5% of the investigated profiles had at least one photo showing an animal.

In both cities, dogs were the most frequently shown animal. Taking the cities together, they appeared in 46.4% of the animal pictures, compared with cats at 25.7%.

Exotic animals comprised 9.9% of the animals, farm animals 6.4%, and horses 4.6%.

Users were significantly more likely to show cats in Tokyo (35.8%) than they were in Vienna (18.0%).

The researchers found that users in Vienna rather than Tokyo, women rather than men, and older adults rather than younger users were more likely to present animals on their profiles. Sexual orientation showed no significant differences in the analyses.

Dürnberger and Springer, both with the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna in Austria, took notes during their profile investigations in the hopes of developing preliminary conclusions about how animals were presented.

They identified two typical types of presentation of animals, which were not mutually exclusive.

The first presented the animal as a close friend or family member. This form of presentation included portraits of the animal. The animal is prominently displayed, and the impression given is that the pet is as deserving of its own photo in the photo gallery, as are children or close friends.

“Its inclusion,” they said, “is part of describing one’s life and important companions in photos.”

The second type of presentation involved the animal mirroring the user’s personal character traits. “This type of photo is not about the animal per se,” they said. “Instead, the form of presentation gives certain insights into the life and character traits of the user.”

It might involve the animal as a part of an emotional encounter; being part of an active or sporty lifestyle; being used to communicate the user’s fashion or housing style; or as part of humour, with the animal amusingly staged.

“Self-presentation in online dating is rarely spontaneous,” the authors said. “In most cases, it is a consciously planned activity. It seems reasonable to infer that in most cases the inclusion of an animal photo is considered carefully by the user.

“We might say that it is part of the user’s ‘impression construction’, by which we mean that users think about what impression they want to make and how they can achieve it.

“However, it is not only the fact that an animal is shown that seems to be relevant in this context, but also how users present animals.”

It would appear that the displaying of animal photos serves to communicate aspects of the user — such as being empathic, kind, social, active, healthy, sporty, aesthetic or humorous — that play an important role in online dating for users, whether those users have long-term or short-term dating goals.

Animals do, indeed, play a role in online dating, Dürnberger and Springer concluded. “The animals most likely to be shown are those in a close and frequent contact with users — that is, certain kinds of companion animal.

“Given that self-presentation in online dating is usually not a spontaneous act but a consciously planned one, future studies could explore in-depth the ways in which animals are represented and arranged on profile photos.”

Dürnberger, C.; Springer, S. Wanna See My Dog Pic? A Comparative Observational Study of the Presentation of Animals on Online Dating Profiles in Vienna and Tokyo. Animals 2022, 12, 230.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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