While it is not uncommon for people to post selfies and statuses describing their every thought and action, for many individuals, social networking sites (SNSs) have become a medium to engage in compulsive and addictive behaviors. As emergent disorders, internet-based addictions constitute a relatively young branch of psychological research. In spite of this, the increasing prevalence of online addictive behavior has resulted in myriad studies of broad internet-based addictions, including those related to social networking, gaming, cyber stalking, as well as others.
Before diving into the clinical specifics, it is pertinent to examine the inherently addictive nature of phone culture in general. The format of SNSs and mobile operating systems themselves play heavily on the reward centers of the human brain. For example, every time we check a notification to remove that pesky number badge, we are immediately negatively reinforced (an unpleasant stimulus is removed) when the little red circle is no longer there. There is another more powerful example: intermittent reinforcement, the strongest of all reward schedules. Intermittent reinforcement encompasses an inconsistent and unpredictable schedule of behavioral rewards. The fact that every notification is different, and that each has a different value to us, makes every instance of checking them a gamble, so to speak. In fact, gambling addiction is one of the most difficult to overcome for this very reason: intermittently being rewarded makes the reward that much stronger. In this light, it is no wonder that a wide range of rather esoteric addictions and compulsions are derived from internet use, such as SNS-based addictions.
One might think that social networking would improve the quality of life for people, as socialization is an innate necessity of the human brain. In less scientific terms, it is typically considered pleasurable to be social. Research has contrarily shown that there is actually a negative association between life satisfaction and the amount of time spent on facebook, and goes on to suggest that the addictive qualities of the internet may be a factor explaining this trend (Steiger, 2019). Another study, utilizing various personality inventories to examine the relationship between Instagram addiction and personality, found a negative association between Instagram addiction and agreeableness, conscientiousness, and self-liking. They contrarily found a positive association between Instagram addiction and daily internet use (Kircaburun & Griffiths, 2018).
In addition to SNS-specific addictions, the internet as a whole, provides the basis for other modern compulsive and addictive behaviors, such as with gaming and cyber stalking. In fact, research has shown that online gamers exhibit withdrawal symptoms, especially “craving to game, impatience, increased sleeping, increased eating, lack of pleasure, irritable/angry, anxious/tense, restless, difficulty concentrating, and increased dreaming” (Giordano et. al, 2020). Stalking, an “emotional and sentimental addiction”, has progressed into its modern form of cyber stalking, increasing the ease with which stalkers may victimize their targets via the internet (Majchrzyk, 2012). Related research, including a study of the activity of men on Facebook with a focus on correlations between self-presentation behaviors, self-objectification, and level of Dark Triad (Machiavellian, psychopathic, and narcissistic) traits, portrays that “those high on Dark Triad traits may employ SNSs to execute ‘cheater strategies’ that help them achieve their interpersonal and social goals despite their antisocial personality traits”, such as editing their posted selfies (Fox & Rooney, 2015). Beyond enabling catfishes to lie about their true identities for personal gains, the endless supply of internet-provided anonymity may catalyze severely dangerous and violent behaviors.
Daily internet use seems, at this point, unavoidable. There are however, tactics that may be employed to prevent internet use from becoming problematic, or to decrease behavior that is already troublesome. Monitoring one’s screen time, setting temporal limits on gaming and social networking, and speaking with a healthcare professional may help to stop or curtail addictive and compulsive internet-based behaviors. At the very least, it is pertinent to be mindful of the various behavioral issues that may arise from excessive internet use.
Fox, J. & Rooney, M. (2015). The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites. Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 76, 161-165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.12.017
Giordano, A. L., Prosek, E. A., Bain, C., Malacara, A., Turner, J., Schunemann, K., & Schmit, M. K. (2020). Withdrawal Symptoms Among American Collegiate Internet Gamers. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 42(1), 63–77. https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.42.1.05
Kircaburun, K., & Griffiths, M. D. (2018). Instagram addiction and the Big Five of personality: The mediating role of self-liking. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(1), 158–170. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.15
Majchrzyk, Z. (2012). Stalking – Desire, Impulse, Obsession, Compulsion, Addiction. Between Pathology and Postmodern Culture. Sveikatos Mokslai (Journal of Health Sciences) 22(2), 99-106. https://sm-hs.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/278-983-1-PB.pdf
Stieger S. (2019). Facebook Usage and Life Satisfaction. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2711. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02711