People say they’re “addicted” to all kinds of stuff that actually turns out to be benign -- sure, you may really like those pumpkin spice lattes, but when they go away you don’t get all twitchy and irritable. However people who say they’re addicted to social media might be telling the truth, as another study suggests that yep, social media is literally addictive.
The new study by researchers at University at Albany-SUNY, titled “Craving Facebook? Behavioral addiction to online social networking and its association with emotion regulation deficits,” surveyed 292 undergraduate respondents, ages 18 and up, about their usage of social media, using criteria similar to those used to diagnose alcoholism.
Overall 90% of respondents said they were active Facebook users. Within this group the researchers identified a cohort of around 10% of the total survey group who displayed behaviors matching the profile of “disordered social networking use,” including irritability when unable to access Facebook, cravings to use the social network, and increasing usage as time went on.
They also displayed addictive personality traits including difficulty with tasks related to psychological self-management, like emotional regulation and impulse control. Indeed, people who experienced symptoms of social media addiction were also more likely to report having trouble regulating their consumption of alcohol.
The researchers described how Facebook feeds the addictive dynamic: “New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently. This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a ‘variable interval schedule of reinforcement’ and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices.”
In October doctors with the U.S. Navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Program reported that they had treated their first patient with “Internet addiction disorder,” enabled by Google Glass. The 31-year-old man originally checked into the program for treatment of alcoholism, but began displaying signs of addiction when his Google Glass was taken away, including physical tics like tapping his temple where Google Glass used to be, irritability, craving the device, and dreaming about using the device. He told doctors that he had been using Google Glass to access the Internet for 18 hours per day.