Facebook and social networks – pastime or addiction?
I am not really a heavy social network user. I have a twitter and Facebook account, and a (slightly outdated) Linkedin account. I mostly use mine to publicise my blog and keep in touch with distant friends. I maybe make about 6 posts a week max. For most, these networks are a great way to bring people together and share views. For others, though, social networks like Facebook can become problematic or even addictive. Can the science of psychology help predict who is at risk?
Whether you see overuse of Facebook (and social media more generally) as an addiction depends in part on how you define ‘addiction’ itself. For some researchers, addiction must involve some chemical (i.e. drugs). For others, any habitual behaviour which causes problems to the person who engages with it (and is hard to stop) can be considered ‘addiction’. This broader definition also encompasses behaviours such as compulsive sex, shopping, gambling and, potentially, social networking.
I’m not alone in seeing sites such as Facebook as potentially addictive- indeed, scales specifically measuring addiction to Facebook  have been developed and overuse of social networking sites has been linked to a variety of negative outcomes including lower self-esteem, depression symptoms and anxiety   . The need to constantly play / check / post can also be incredibley disruptive for peoples day to day functioning.
and from our own lab….
I have dabbled in this research area myself recently, with a couple of bits of work which help us understand what may drive overuse, and who may be most at risk.
A great undergraduate student I have been supervising (Samantha Golding) completed her undergraduate thesis on online gaming addiction, showing that social ties to guilds in the massive-multiplayer game World of Warcraft predicted one’s ability to say ‘no’ to playing the game, and also the number of hours spent doing playing. Some participants in this small study reported over 37 hours weekly use (that is equivalent is holding down a second job!).
More directly, I was recently lucky enough to be involved in some research looking at ‘problematic’ Facebook use  led by upcoming psychologist Claudia Marino and one of our Professors at LSBU, Marcantonio Spada. We were interested in the relative effects of personality and social identity on Facebook book use. Amongst a sample of almost 1000 teenagers, we found perceived social norms were linked with how frequently people used Facebook. Interestingly individual differences in personality also predicted levels of Facebook use which could be considered problematic. Traits such as low emotional stability (being able to cope with anxiety and emotionality), low levels extraversion and high conscientiousness were all linked with problematic facebook use.
So, this research at least suggests, it appears the amount you perceive others using Facebook (something we typically overestimate) influences use and that some personality profiles may be more at risk of overuse than others.How long is too long on social networks?http://wp.me/p7yLz7-7y Click To Tweet
Life is short
It’s important to note I am not ‘anti’ Facebook and the like. I actually think they are great! Moreover, other research on social networking shows the social ties and support such online communities offer can be enriching and psychologically protective. But, for some people, the habit may be a bit out of control. Also, it’s worth noting that it is not ‘Facebook’ per se which is ‘addictive’ – the site features all sorts of activities, and how and why they have addictive potential (and to whom) is complex .
The vital thing is that, if you do think you have a problem, you should reach out for help.
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- Andreassen, C. S., Torsheim, T., Brunborg, G. S., & Pallesen, S. (2012). Development of a Facebook addiction scale 1, 2. Psychological Reports, 110(2), 501–517. ↩
- Satici, S.A., & Uysal, R. (2015). Well-being and problematic Facebook use. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 185–190. ↩
- Pantic, I., Damjanovic, A., Todorovic J., et al. (2012). Association between online social networking and depression in high school students: Behavioral physiology viewpoint. Psychiatria Danubina, 24, 90–93. ↩
- Rosen, L.D., Whaling, K., Rab, S., Carrier, L.M., & Cheever N.A. (2013). Is Facebook creating ‘‘iDisorders’’? The link between clinical symptoms of psychiatric disorders and technology use, attitudes and anxiety. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1243–1254. ↩
- Marion, C., Vieno, A., Pastore, M., Albery, I.P., Frings, D., Spada, M.M. (in press). Modelling the contribution of personality, social identity and social norms to problematic Facebook use in adolescents. To appear in Addictive Behaviors. ↩
- Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Facebook addiction: concerns, criticism, and recommendations–a response to Andreassen and colleagues. Psychological Reports, 110(2).518–520. ↩