Tinder and cognitive dissonance

I'm obsessed with Tinder, but not for the reasons you might think. Rather, I'm obsessed withthe idea of Tinder. Like it or not, it's brilliant and it has changed the dating game, not to mention that their user engagement is astonishing. Their business model perfectly exploits the apathy and vanity of the millennial generation. Is this a noble cause? Probably not. Does it work? You better believe it.

Despite that intro, I'm not actually going to talk about the viability of their business, but rather one small, totally insignificant message that got me thinking: the "Rate Tinder" in-app pop-up (approximately recreated right). 

I probably didn't get the exact text right because I was recreating the pop-up from memory, but the sentiment is there. See what they did there? 

"No thanks, I haven't enjoyed using Tinder"

The three options here, effectively, are:

  • Rate Tinder
  • Fine, rate Tinder later.
  • FINE. Don't rate it. But you have to admit to hating it first. Go ahead, I dare you to say you hate it.

I've never rated anything on the App store, and declining these messages is usually second nature to me. But this popped up while I was walking and—I'm embarrassed to say—literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to seriously override something in my gut to click no, because—embarrassment aside—I have enjoyed using Tinder. That's cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance, in short, is the mental stress or discomfort we feel when our behavior is inconsistent with our beliefs. Humans strive for their behavior and beliefs to be consistent, so when inconsistency (dissonance) arises, we do everything we can to restore balance, either by changing our behavior or belief, or by somehow justifying the behavior.

Cognitive dissonance, even on a small scale, is very uncomfortable. It requires serious mental gymnastics to restore internal balance and dissolve the stress. Using similar findings from research on cognitive dissonance, I would even be willing to bet that people who click "No thanks, I haven't enjoyed using Tinder" would probably report liking Tinder less than those same exact users would have if the message had simply said "No thanks." To maintain internal consistency, people need to change their behavior or their beliefs; the behavior is done, so they only thing left to change is the belief. On that same vein, I would bet that Tinder has garnered more ratings than it would have if the button simply said "No thanks" because some users—lacking sufficient justification to follow through with the inconsistent behavior—rate the app when they otherwise would not have. The results of an A/B test of the entire Tinder user base with those two variables would likely tell a great story.

This is insanely powerful! Marketers, UX designers, copywriters—people all over the business world—can and do use this to their advantages. But it's not without risk. I find that Tinder strikes a good balance here. Their goal is to drive people to write a review, and they have little to lose. Tinder is a free app; if they lose a small amount of engagement because people do, in fact, like the app a little less after clicking "No thanks, I haven't enjoyed using Tinder," it's a small loss. Driving good reviews, however, seems like a big win. Additionally, the "Rate Tinder" pop-up is a one-time deal, rather than something you have to click over and over again.

The most important thing to remember if you're considering using a cognitive dissonance approach to drive an action is this: you're causing stress to your user, and that comes at a cost. The cost could be that your user gets a bad vibe about your company or product because she is constantly pummeled by tricks that make her question her behavior/belief balance. Or the cost could be that your user fights the cognitive dissonance and likes your product or service less after. Truthfully, it's not exactly the "moral high road" to getting what you want out of your users. But depending on your brand, and what exactly you're trying to accomplish, it just might do the trick.