Excessive social media use shown to be comparable to substance abuse
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A Michigan State University study has demonstrated similarities in the behaviours of drug users and people who excessively use social media.
The study is the first to focus on the relationship between social media use and impaired decision-making abilities. Compromised decision-making is a common trait in individuals who engage in substance addictions, although it has not been so thoroughly examined in individuals with behavioural addictions.
Social networks like Facebook deliberately exploit the psychology of its users, providing frequent social rewards (such as ‘likes’) to encourage use. In some, this can lead to severely excessive social media use.
“No one previously looked at this behaviour 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,” said Professor Dar Meshi, an expert in how social media influences behaviour.
Meshi and his colleagues surveyed 71 participants to measure their psychological dependence on (“addiction” to) Facebook, asking them about their preoccupation with the platform, their feelings when they were unable to use it, their experiences of trying to quit, and the impact of it on their studies or work. Next, the respondents took part in a common test for decision making – the Iowa Gambling Task – which requires identifying patterns in decks of cards to choose the best decks.
The researchers found that the individuals with the most dependence on social media performed most poorly in the decision-making task, as well as making most risky decisions - a similar outcome to individuals with dependencies on cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids. The researchers reported their findings in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.
“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,” said Meshi. “Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously.”
“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.”
In recent years, health experts have been discussing with increasing seriousness whether people can be addicted to the Internet, social media and gaming. The next edition of the WHO International Classification of Diseases will include behavioural disorders (gaming disorder and gambling disorder) alongside substance addictions such as alcohol dependency.