Gen Z and Ghosting: Psychology Department Research Team Explores the Morality of This Modern Dating Phenomenon

For many members of the Millennial and Gen Z generations, meeting a romantic partner is a predominantly digital experience: These cohorts are the most active users of apps like Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge, and more than half of adult-age Gen Z-ers and Millennials say they’ve used these platforms.

With online dating becoming the new normal in contemporary courtship, new patterns of behavior are becoming more common and more widely accepted. One of the most controversial is “ghosting” – ending a relationship by suddenly cutting off all contact with someone you’ve dated or chatted with.

The phenomenon has become so common, in fact, that it’s starting to garner attention from scholars and researchers, including two on the SUNY New Paltz campus.

Oliver Similton ’23 ’24g (Psychological Science) – who uses they/them pronouns – teamed up with Assistant Professor of Psychology Matthew Wice on a mentored, undergraduate research project titled “Emerging Adult Perspectives on the Morality of Ghosting,” focused on better understanding this phenomenon, and how younger generations experience and perceive it.

“Ghosting is randomly disappearing on someone when you’re talking mostly online,” said Similton. “It can be okay if you’re in the talking stages or if you feel your safety is at risk.”

The team used a between-subjects design study model – a sort of “A/B test” approach – to compare participants’ reactions to one of four randomly assigned, hypothetical ghosting scenarios and asked how they would react. Each vignette showcases a relationship at different stages, based on level of commitment and length of time spent together.

The study was distributed to young adults, known as emerging adults, ages 18-29, via social media. This allowed for a variety of responses from New Paltz students and young people off-campus alike.

“Ghosting is often sudden and confusing,” said Wice. “This seems to be an emerging norm among this younger generation, and I think it’s absolutely something that has been facilitated through technology and social media.”

Ultimately, Similton and Wice found that while ghosting is widely seen as poor etiquette, members of the Gen Z and Millennial generations are less likely to have strong objections to ghosting than expected.

The survey results showed notable depth, nuance and situational awareness. For instance, many respondents felt that ghosting is an acceptable way of ending a less committed relationship, though they still frowned on the idea of ghosting a longer-term partner.

“Ghosting is a lot more nuanced than not talking to someone,” said Similton. “The biggest thing I found was that the duration of a relationship is not as much of a factor in morality judgments as the commitment shown. People viewed it as more morally wrong to ghost in a committed relationship.”

Respondents’ views on ghosting also depended on their own dating experiences.

“People who had more experience ghosting in dating were less likely to view it as wrong,” said Similton. “This was a pattern that immediately jumped out to us.”

As an expert in moral and developmental psychology, Wice was excited to see how much his fields of study intersect with this modern social phenomenon.

“Even though ghosting has been around for a long time, it was exciting for me to assess what people think about it and examine it through the principles of moral psychology, or whether it’s right or wrong,” he said.

Similton spoke about a similar idea: That in some ways, “ghosting” is a new name for a very old phenomenon, resurfacing through new technology and ripe for study through a psychological lens.

“In the past, you couldn’t really tell, because then people maybe just dropped the piece of paper that had your phone number on it,” they said. “We’re at a point now where we can take a look at a world where dating apps have been the norm, and explore a topic psychological research hasn’t fully examined yet.”


Similton and Wice first met when they took his Developmental Psychology course as a sophomore. Wice often uses his classes as an opportunity for students to apply what they are learning to their everyday experiences.

“I had the idea of pursuing a study on ghosting after the topic came up in one of our classes, and Oliver was immediately on board,” said Wice.

For Similton, the concept was interesting in part due to their own personal experiences.

“I’ve been the ghoster and the ghost-ee,” they said. “Emerging adulthood is a fascinating time to examine, and this project is pivotal in helping us understand current dating trends with people in my age group.”

The project was made possible in part through SUNY New Paltz’s ongoing support for undergraduate research. Every year, students and faculty are invited to apply for funding through the Research, Scholarship & Creative Activities (RSCA) program, which can be used toward expenses like supplies, stipends, travel and more.

Nationwide studies in higher education consistently show that students who have access to rigorous research experiences as undergraduates enjoy more positive outcomes after graduation, whether they enter professional life or pursue post-graduate study.

Student-faculty research often takes SUNY New Paltz students far and wide. Recently, Similton and Wice had the opportunity to demonstrate their scholarship at the esteemed Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual convention.   

“Collaborating with faculty on research or creative activities can do so many good things for students,” said RSCA Director Corwin Senko. “It prepares them for advanced work in graduate school or careers, it builds professional relationships that can open doors after graduation, and it’s just plain fun to do this kind of work instead of just read about it in a textbook.”

For Similton, conducting this research has affirmed a long-term ambition to continue developing as a scholar in the field of psychology. They’ve enrolled in SUNY New Paltz’s Five-Year Bachelor of Arts in Psychology/Master of Science in Psychological Science program, which allows students to take graduate-level courses as an undergraduate on their way to earning two degrees in five years.

“Through this program, I can continue studying the brain through both a social and biological lens,” they said. “In my time at New Paltz, I’ve found that if you want to study something, there is a professor here who will help you do it.”

Shaped by faculty mentors like Wice, Similton aspires to follow in their footsteps by attaining a doctorate in psychology.

“I hope to keep up my scholarship in the field and inspire students in the same way Professor Wice did during my first class with him,” they said.

Reproduced from the New Paltz Alumni Magazine.

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