EAST LANSING, Mich. — Maybe some of us are truly “addicted” to social media. For such individuals, seemingly benign cues can create hankerings, a new study finds.

Researchers at Michigan State University and two universities in the Netherlands conducted two separate studies of 200 Facebook users total to examine the pull that the network has for some of its heavy users.

Facebook app on phone
Just seeing something associated with Facebook makes frequent users feel good, while causing an urge to log on, a new study finds.

During the first study, participants were shown a Facebook-related image, or a random, unrelated image, followed by a Chinese character. Participants were then asked to evaluate whether they found the Chinese character pleasant or unpleasant.

Those who were both heavy Facebook users and exposed to the Facebook-related cue were more likely to respond positively to the Chinese character than those who didn’t fit both criteria.

“People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook,” says lead researcher Allison Eden, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Communication, in a news release.  “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.”

The second study simply involved a questionnaire through which respondents self-reported their level of addiction to Facebook.

All in all, Eden and her team were able to observe how social media creates immense temptation, which can subsequently lead to guilt.

Platforms like Facebook can cause many to feel as if they’ve lost their sense of self-regulation, which can be extremely damaging to their health. To help lessen one’s dependency on social media, Eden recommends that users consider limiting common cues (e.g., having the Facebook app on their home screen).

“Media, including social media, is one of the most commonly failed goals to regulate,” Eden acknowledges. “People try to regulate themselves and they really have difficulty with it.”

Considering the dependency that many develop, perhaps it’s still worth a shot.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

About Daniel Steingold

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