People Addicted To Social Media Have This In Common With Drug Addicts

According to a new study the decision-making attributes of excessive social media users has been likened to those of drug addicts and gamblers.

It's scary, but the research, designed to raise awareness about the hidden mental health traps affecting young adults online has shown that the risky decision-making behaviours of social media overusers is comparable to people battling substance addiction.

Seventy-one participants between the ages of 18-35 took part in the study which first measured their psychological dependence on Facebook through a survey.

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Participants then performed 100 trials of the Iowa Gambling Test, a common exercise used by psychologists to measure decision-making. To successfully complete the task, users had to identify the best outcome patterns in decks of cards -- in each trial, they chose a card and received a specified amount of play money for this choice, with the view to make as much money as possible

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Professor Antonio Verdejo-Garcia from the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences (MICCN) and co-author of the study told 10 daily that the test showed bad decision making by social media overusers.

"Our study found that by the end of the gambling task, the participants that performed the worst displayed the most excessive social media use,” Professor Verdejo-Garcia said.

The results found are similar to those of individuals dependent on various substances such as opioids, marijuana, alcohol and nicotine, as well as individuals exhibiting problem gambling.

"In the task, participants had to make a decision between options that give you small rewards but also small losses -- so in the long term, they are advantageous -- and high rewards and high losses, which are disadvantageous in the long run. So at the end of the task, if you have a preference for the latter, you're going to be broke. And that is what happens with the more excessive social media users."

Interestingly, according to Verdejo-Garcia, these over-users can learn the difference between the two -- which is something that often doesn't happen in people with substance addiction problems. "They can learn the difference between the 'good' and 'bad', but they still show a preference for the 'bad'  -- the option that gives you high reward and potentially high loss," he said.

As to why they do this, Professor Verdejo-Garcia has a theory.

"On of the reason I think they're behaving that way is that in social media you spend a lot of time receiving rewards -- you are constantly posting and getting likes and checking you're getting favourable opinions, for the most part," he told 10 daily, "and the task simulates that kind of behaviour."

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This new report comes after the 2018 Yellow Social Media Report compiled by Sensis showed that 37% of 18-29-year-olds felt anxious when unable to access their social media accounts. More than one-third of people now access their social media in excess of five times per day.

Professor Verdejo-Garcia said the results of his study revealed important societal implications.

"Social media use is ubiquitous and continues to grow with many individuals displaying anxious and even conflictive behaviour when attempting to withdraw from these online channels,” he said.

"Social media is the new way to communicate with our loved ones and for professional purposes; that is not a bad thing. There are many benefits to being connected online, but this research cautions that it might be wise to have limits. Excessive use could lead to disadvantageous decisions."

Feature image: Getty