A new study shows a link between excessive social media use and risky decision-making, a trait commonly found in substance addiction.

“Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites,” said Dar Meshi, lead author and assistant professor at Michigan State University (MSU). “Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously.”

The study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, is the first to look at the association between social media use and risky decision-making.

“Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders. They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes,” Meshi said.

“But no one previously looked at this behavior as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers. While we didn’t test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use.”

For the study, 71 participants completed a survey that measured their psychological dependence on Facebook. Questions on the survey asked about users’ preoccupation with the platform, their feelings when unable to use it, attempts to quit and the impact that Facebook has had on their job or studies.

Participants then completed the Iowa Gambling Task, a common exercise used by psychologists to measure decision-making skills. During the task, users must identify outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

The findings show that a poor performance on the gambling task was tied to more excessive social media use. The better participants did in the task, the less their social media use.

These results are similar to those found among substance abusers. People who abuse opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, among others — have similar outcomes on the Iowa Gambling Task, thus showing the same deficiency in decision-making.

“With so many people around the world using social media, it’s critical for us to understand its use,” Meshi said.

“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.”

Source: Michigan State University