Researchers studying Facebook users have found that social media may be such a hard habit to break because it makes users feel good, and those positive feelings in turn may make users crave more social media.
“People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook…”
The researchers conducted two studies of frequent and less frequent Facebook users and found that even brief exposure to a Facebook-related image (logo, screenshot) can cause a pleasurable response in frequent social media users, which in turn might trigger social media cravings. The combination of pleasant feelings and cravings may make social media too difficult to resist.
Most likely, that’s because Facebook exposure is a learned response—such as when children learn misbehavior earns them attention or when dogs learn going to the bathroom outside earns them a treat—and learned responses are hard to break, says Allison Eden, an assistant professor in the communication department at Michigan State University.
“People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook,” Eden says. “What we show with this study is that even with something as simple as the Facebook logo, seeing the Facebook wall of a friend, or seeing anything associated with Facebook is enough to bring that positive association back.”
In the first study, participants were exposed to a Facebook-related cue or a control picture, followed by a Chinese symbol. They were then asked to judge whether the symbol was pleasant or unpleasant. After being exposed to a Facebook-inspired image, heavy Facebook users rated the Chinese image as pleasant with greater consistency than less frequent users.
Then, in the second study, participants were given a survey to measure their cravings to use Facebook.
Because of giving in to temptation, people often struggle with feelings of guilt, Eden says. If they try to regulate Facebook usage and fail, they feel badly, so they turn to Facebook and feel badly again. It’s a cycle of self-regulatory failure, she says.
But, Eden says, the guilt is more damaging to the psyche than failing to control the media.
The solution could be to remove some of the cues from people’s environment, like, for example, removing the Facebook logo from a cell phone home screen.
“Media, including social media, is one of the most commonly failed goals to regulate,” Eden says. “People try to regulate themselves and they really have difficulty with it.”
A paper describing the findings of both studies appears in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Additional researchers who contributed to the research are from Vrije Universiteit and Radboud University Nijmegen.
Source: Michigan State University