Excessive social media usage is comparable to drug addiction

Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making.


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Two and a half billion people around the world regularly use social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and this number increases every day as more people gain access to the Internet. Social networking sites (SNSs) are not just creating profiles, they are spending substantial, recurring periods of time on these platforms observing and interacting with others.

According to a study by Michigan State University, there is an association between excessive social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance addiction.

In this survey-based study, scientists involved 71 participants and measured their psychological dependence on Facebook, similar to addiction. They conduct questionaries about users’ preoccupation with the platform, their feelings when unable to use it, attempts to quit and the impact that Facebook has had on their job or studies.

Participants were then asked to do the Iowa Gambling Task, a common exercise used by psychologists to measure decision-making. To successfully complete the task, users identify outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

Scientists found that by the end of the gambling task, the worse people performed by choosing from bad decks, the more excessive their social media use. The better they did in the task, the less their social media use.

This outcome is integral to results with substance abusers. Individuals who abuse opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, among others – have comparative results on the Iowa Gambling Task, in this way appearing the same insufficiency in decision making.

Dar Meshi, lead author and assistant professor at MSU said, “Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites. Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously.”

“Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders. They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes. But no one previously looked at this behavior as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers. While we didn’t test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use.”

“With so many people around the world using social media, it’s critical for us to understand its use. I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there’s also a dark side when people can’t pull themselves away. We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction.”

The study is published in the Journal of Behavior Addictions.