Communication has become a lot less personal since the social media takeover of this generation.
The method for meeting friends and significant others used to mean connecting on a personal level.
But the impersonal nature of social media has pushed our generation to judge others based off their looks and the few sentences in profile.
Tinder, a dating app meant to connect users who are in a certain radius of each other, is solely based on looks, a brief profile and proximity.
Photos of different users pop up on the screen and users can either hit a red X or a green heart to “like” a user or give them a “nope.”
When two people “like” each other, they are notified of the match and are able to message each other.
Assistant professor of education and technology Christine Greenhow said dating websites like Tinder try to mimic face-to-face dating.
“Your best face is out there to potentially attract other people,” Greenhow said. “With dating sites, you can participate a little bit and the people you are attracted to and that are attracted to you, you have more ways of getting to know each other over time.”
To see how physical appearances can affect students’ perceptions and attraction to each other, I set out on an experimental adventure. I created a fake Tinder account under the name of Carrie Rogers and the preference was set to only men.
To see the different ways others could perceive me, I changed the pictures on my Tinder profile every two to four days to embody a different stereotype through the course of two weeks. The stereotypes I chose to use for this experiment was my regular daily look, a darker “goth” look, a “party sorority girl” and a “hipster.”
“Stereotypes can be thought of as information that could be true or false,” said Carlos Navarrete, associate professor of psychology. “Some stereotypes have some truth to them and others are not.”
The only consistent part of my profile was my bio: 19-year-old advertising major at MSU who likes to listen to Coldplay.
To see how many possible matches I could get, when I went on Tinder, I tapped the heart button for every guy that came up. That way I could see the kinds of people and how many thought we were matches, simply based on looks. For the purpose of the experiment, I never initiated or responded to messages.
After completing the experiment, I compared the number of matches and the type of messages each look got.
“People are putting out the most positive version of themselves. That can lead to stereotyping of this ideal version that they want to show to the world or the profile they want others to see,” Greenhow said. “Only knowing the photograph only tells you so much.”
Me, myself and I
When I began this experiment, putting myself out there as my normal, everyday self made me feel a little uncomfortable. I was nervous about the different comments I would receive and if I would get many matches because I wasn’t dressing up as someone else — this was me.
For the photo associated with this, I just wore a simple sweater.
I’m a 19-year-old white girl. I’m a journalism sophomore. I’m not drop dead gorgeous, nor would I consider myself an eyesore. My look is in no way unique, just an average female college student.
I received a significant amount of messages as myself. Some ranged from “hey how are you?” to sexual references, such as the one that said, “I bet you would look adorable grasping the sheets of my bed (winky face).” Some commented on my necklace, others said I was “pretty.” The “winky face” came through in many messages.
When I received vulgar messages, I was offended that these college guys would objectify me like that. But not all the messages were negative. Even though this was not my personal account, being called “gorgeous” by a stranger is a nice feeling.
"Sorority party girl"
For this stereotype, I wore a “go greek” T-shirt, styled my hair and wore a little more makeup.
Greek life often gets a bad reputation for partying, said journalism sophomore Kelly Cullen.
“I think that it’s sad that people have this image of girls that are in greek life,” said Cullen, Panhellenic delegate for Kappa Kappa Gamma. “It’s definitely not about (partying).”
Cullen explained that sororities do much more than have fun. Members put together community events, raise awareness and promote fellow sorority and fraternity events.
I’m not involved in greek life, so I didn’t know what to expect beforehand. The comments for this type were more objective and offensive.
“My eyes are the only thing I don’t want to take off of you,” one user said.
This type of correspondence was upsetting because I saw firsthand how men judge women in this way based off these stereotypes.
For this stereotype, I wore heavier eyeliner and dressed in black clothing.
The “gothic” stereotype might be a little outdated, but for the purposes of the experiment, it seemed necessary because it’s still one that people are quick to judge.
I quickly noticed that during this phase, I received a significantly lower number of messages. Nobody commented on my looks, just a simple hello if anything at all.
In what I assume to be a reference to “Carrie,” one user said, “I’ll dump pig’s blood on you ;).”
“Dark” people seem to be associated with personality traits rather than all appearance. Yes, the dark clothing is part of the appearance, but we automatically connect that to depressed, angry, lonely people.
“In some ways, people are forced to rely on stereotypes because they don’t have other information,” Navarrete said. “When in reality, the more you rely on stereotypes, the less information we have.”
The way I see it, “hipsters” are linked to this contemporary subculture that believes in independent thinking, art and progressivism.
For this section, I wore a flower crown and a loose top. I used a picture I had taken at a concert.
I received messages hinting at these contemporary views that a hippie might have, like all is fair in love and war. They were tamer than the messages sent to my previous accounts.
One of them said, “I could be the six and you could be the nine but thats the only time you’d be less than a dime.”
“Someone can only get so much through a visual image of someone. A photograph is a snapshot in time of the person. In that way, it would seem to limit how much you could know about the person behind the photograph,” Greenhow said.
This stage was the most successful out of the stereotypes in terms of number of matches and messages.
From this experiment, I can hypothesize that this stereotype was least objectified because my photo portrayed me as a down-to-earth person.
This experiment may have been unethical, posing as a fake person and making others believe they had a real match on Tinder. But it was interesting to see how the messages and number of matches all varied depending on my outfit.
As Cullen said, the only way to stop stereotypes is by getting to know what someone’s personality is like.
“I think that it’s easy to pass these judgments, but if you go past this and really get to know someone and look inside, rather than what they look on the outside — what they’re wearing, what they are or are not involved in — it would really help to stop these stereotypes,” Cullen said.