Social media addiction can impact decision-making as much as drugs. While the mental and physical effects of drug addiction are well documented, researchers are now working to explore the extent to which social media addiction impacts health and wellbeing.
A new study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU), the first of its kind, shows that heavy social media use impacts decision making in similar ways as drug addiction or gambling.
The research was published in the Journal of Behavior Addictions and the results help show how damaging excessive social media use can be.
“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 of the study and assistant professor at MSU. “Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously.”
For the study, the researchers surveyed 71 participants about their dependence on Facebook, how often they visited the site and how they felt about not being able to use it. The participants also discussed Facebook’s impact on their job or education.
Next, the researchers asked the participants to complete the Iowa Gambling Task, a psychological experiment that helps measure decision making.
“Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders,” said Meshi. “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.”
With the Iowa Gambling Task, participants had to identify patterns in decks of cards and choose the best deck.
After the task was completed, the researchers found a strong link between poor decision making and excessive social media use. The more a participant admitted to using Facebook in their survey, the worse they performed on the task.
The impact social media had on decision making for the participants was similar to the impacts of opioids and other drugs.
“With so many people around the world using social media, it’s critical for us to understand its use,” said Meshi. “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.”