Excessive social media users are like drug addicts

New research from Michigan State Univ, Monash Univ and McGill Univ shows a connection between social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance addiction

Excessive social media users are like drug addicts

Mahendra Pandey

Almost three quarters (72.6%) of internet users will access the web solely via their smartphones by 2025, equivalent to nearly 3.7 billion people, according to a report published recently by the World Advertising Research Center (WARC), using data from mobile trade body GSMA. Sixty-nine million will access the internet via PC only. WARC estimates that around 2 billion people currently access the internet via only their smartphone, which equates to 51% of the global base of 3.9 mobile users. Most of the growth in smartphone use will come from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan, but there will still be 2.4 billion people who do not own a mobile phone by 2025, the report said.

These data may be good for trade and business, but not on the social front because a recent study shows that excessive social media users are similar to drug addicts as far as behavior is considered.

Bad decision-making and volatile withdrawal symptoms are traits often associated with drug addicts and pathological gamblers, but what about people who excessively use social media? New research from Michigan State University, Monash University and McGill University shows a connection between social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance addiction.

“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 Dar Meshi, lead author and assistant professor at MSU.“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," Meshi said. "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."

The findings of the report were published in the Journal of Behavior Addictions. More than 70 people between the ages of 18 and 35 took part in the study, which measured their psychological dependence on Facebook. Participants then completed a survey which probed their 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. They were then asked to complete a number of tasks that assessed their ability to determine the best possible outcome when given money. “The participants that performed the worst displayed the most excessive social media use,” Professor Verdejo-Garcia said.

Professor Antonio Verdejo-Garcia, from the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences, said the study highlighted a worrying trend. “Social media use continues to grow, with many individuals displaying anxious and even conflictive behaviour when attempting to withdraw from these online channels,” he said. “We want this study to highlight the potentially adverse consequences that excessive social media use can have to our decision-making and general mental wellbeing.”

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