What is ghosting - and what type of person ghosts?

Posted by Dr Claire Hill on 16th March 2023

You know the feeling; you've been happily messaging that special someone and things have been going really well. Then boom. Nothing. The messages from them just suddenly stop. It's like they've dropped off the face of the planet. Except they haven't. You've been ghosted. Ghosting is "when one person suddenly ignores or stops communicating with another person, without telling them why"1. And if this seems familiar to you then you're not alone. Research shows that up to 72% of adults aged 18-29 years old have been ghosted and up to 65% have ghosted someone2. Ghosting is arguably unique to other ways of ending a relationship because it doesn't clearly let the 'ghostee' know that things have ended between them. Studies have found that being ghosted leaves the ghostee feeling puzzled3, speculating why they've stopped contacting them4 and what it all means5.

Ghost waving goodbye

Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

So what does ghosting mean? Research has shown that the three most common reasons ghostees give for being ghosted is that the ghoster has either lost interest in them, found someone else or just isn't ready for a relationship4. Those who have been ghosted describe ghosting as wrong, immature, hurtful and one of the worst ways to end a relationship5,6. But what does science tell us about those who do the ghosting? Interestingly, studies have shown that those who rate ghosting as more acceptable, have more ghosting intentions and had ghosted more in the past have stronger 'destiny beliefs'. In other words, ghosters were more likely to believe in soulmates and that people are either meant to be together or not5. It could therefore be that they are quick to end a relationship when they don't feel they are with 'the one' and so are more prone to use ghosting as an exit strategy.

If you've been ghosted, you might have a few choice words to describe the person who ghosted you! Perhaps surprisingly, research hasn't found ghosting behaviour to be linked to as many negative personality traits as you might think. Ghosters have not been to be more assertive, show less empathy, or have a greater sense of power7. However, ghosters were more likely to have moral disengagement, which is where people justify antisocial behaviour, rationalise how their actions might impact on others and feel less shame or guilt over their actions. Ghosters were also found to be more likely to resolve conflicts through 'hostile engagement' which refers to use of personal attacks and loss of control, and 'withdrawal' where they refuse to discuss problems or act distantly (i.e. they are prone to giving someone 'the silent treatment') 7.

Curiously, research has shown that those who have been ghosted are more likely to be ghosters too7. It has been suggested that going on to ghost others may help them restore their hurt feelings from being ghosted themselves8. Plus they might also see the benefits of ghosting, such as avoiding confrontation and any negative reactions to the break up.

So the next time those messages stop out of nowhere, know that you're not alone. And the next time it might be you who seems to have disappeared into thin air...


  1. Kay, C., & Courtice, E. L. (2022). An empirical, accessible definition of "ghosting" as a relationship dissolution method. Personal Relationships, 29(2), 386-411.
  2. Koessler R. B., Kohut T., Campbell L. (2019). Integration and expansion of qualitative analyses of relationship dissolution through ghosting. PsyArXiv
  3. LeFebvre L. E., Rasner R. D., Allen M. (2020). "I guess I'll never know...": Non-initiators account-making after being ghosted. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25(5), 395–415
  4. LeFebvre L. E., Fan X. (2020). Ghosted?: Navigating strategies for reducing uncertainty and implications surrounding ambiguous loss. Personal Relationships, 27(2), 433–459.
  5. Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2019). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(3), 905-924.
  6. Manning J., Denker K.J., & Johnson R. (2019) Justifications for "ghosting out" of developing or ongoing romantic relationships: anxieties regarding digitally-mediated romantic interaction. In A. Hetsroni, M. Tuncez (Eds.), It happen on tinder. Reflections and studies on Internet-infused dating, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, pp. 114-132
  7. Navarro, R., Larrañaga, E., Yubero, S., & Víllora, B. (2021). Individual, interpersonal and relationship factors associated with ghosting intention and behaviors in adult relationships: Examining the associations over and above being a recipient of ghosting. Telematics and informatics, 57, 101513.
  8. Keysar, B., Converse, B.A., Wang, J., Epley, N., 2008. Reciprocity is not give and take: asymmetric reciporicty to positive and negative acts. Psychol. Sci. 19 (12), 1280–1286.