Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring the idea that "social media addiction" is more than just a joke about being online. Their article, titled "An Excessive Number of Social Media Users Demonstrate Impaired Decision Making in the Iowa Gambling Task" (Meshi, Elizarova, Bender and Verdejo-Garcia) and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions , indicates that users of social media sites display some of the behavioral characteristics of a person addicted to cocaine or heroin.
The study asked 71 participants to first evaluate their own use of Facebook with a measure known as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. The study's subjects then completed a project called the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a classic research tool that evaluates impaired decision-making. The IGT introduces participants to four virtual card games associated with rewards or punishments and asks them to choose cards from the card games to maximize their virtual winnings. As the study explains, "participants are also informed that some decks are better than others and that if they want to succeed, they must avoid bad decks and choose cards from the good ones."
What the researchers found was revealing. Study participants who claimed to have an excessive number of Facebook users were actually performing worse than their counterparts at the IGT, attending both "bad" decks that offer immediate gains but lead to losses. This difference in behavior was statistically significant in the latter part of the IGT, when a participant had ample time to observe the characteristics of the bridge and knows which maps pose the greatest risk.
The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain lesions to heroin addicts, but its use as a measure to examine addicts of social media is new. Along with extensive structural research, it is clear that researchers can apply to social media users much of the existing methodological framework for substance abuse learning.
The study is narrow, but interesting, and offers some pointers for further research. As the researchers acknowledge, in an ideal study, they could actually observe participants' use of social media and sort them into categories of low or high usage of social media based on behavior rather than a survey of social media. fill.
Future research could also focus more on the excessive number of users on different social networks. The study only looked at the use of Facebook, "because it is currently the most used software [social network] around the world, but we could expect to see similar results with Instagram, which has more than a billion dollars a month, and potentially with a much smaller portion of people on Twitter.
In the end, we know that social media is changing human behavior and, potentially, its neurological underpinnings, we simply do not know its extent – for the moment. Due to the methodical nature of behavioral research and its often extremely lengthy publication process, we are unlikely to be able to know the results of current studies. Yet, as this study shows, researchers are studying the impact of social media on our brains and our behavior – we may not be able to get an overview for some time.