We’re all a little obsessed with social media. People talk about 15 minutes on Instagram as a mere warmup for the day, and it’s rare not to see commuters with their faces stuck in phones on public transit every morning.
As social media becomes more and more accessible, it’s begun to warrant more attention from researchers trying to understand its power and sway. And academics at Michigan State University, McGill University, and Monash University have bad news for people who use social media excessively: Your value-based decision-making skills may be akin to those of someone dependent on cocaine, methamphetamines, opioids, marijuana, alcohol, or other substances.
Scientists know that “individuals with substance use and behavioral addictive disorders have difficulty making value-based decisions,” according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. However, it’s been less clear whether people who overuse social networking sites suffer from the same risky decision-making.
That’s why researchers administered two tests to 71 participants. First, people took the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale survey to assess “their psychological dependence on Facebook, similar to addiction,” according to a press release about the study. Then, they went through 100 trials of the Iowa Gambling Task, an exercise that takes stock of value-based decision making.
In the Iowa Gambling Task, social media users with more “severe”, “excessive” online habits were more inclined toward risky decisions, the study found.
“This result further supports a parallel between individuals with problematic, excessive SNS use, and individuals with substance use and behavioral addictive disorders,” researchers wrote.
“With so many people around the world using social media, it’s critical for us to understand its use,” Dar Meshi, lead author and assistant professor at MSU, said in a press release. “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.”
Whether our online habits constitute a medical problem or just a waste of time, it’s clear it’s doing things to our psychology that we probably don’t want. So maybe it is time to try to distance ourselves from our screens, lest we start making decisions that get us in trouble.