Excessive social media linked to bad decision making

MSU researchers see parallels with drug addiction, pathological gamblers

New university research into excessive use of social media shows a connection with impaired risky decision making.

“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,” according to Dar Meshi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

“Our finding will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously,” said Meshi, the lead author of the study published in the Journal of Behavior Addictions.

While decision making is often compromised in individuals with substance use disorders, who fail to learn from their mistakes, no one previously looked at this behavior as it relates to excessive social media users, Meshi said. That led his research team to investigate a possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers.

While researchers didn’t test for the cause of poor decision-making, they did test for its correlation with problematic social media use, he said.

The research team, including faculty from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, had 71 participants take a survey to measure their psychological dependence on Facebook, similar to addiction. They were asked about preoccupation with Facebook, their feelings when unable to use it, attempts to quit and the impact that Facebook has had on their job or studies. Then these participants took the Iowa Gambling Task, an exercise used by psychologists to measure decision-making, involving users identifying outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

Meshi and his team found that by the end of the task, the worse people performed by choosing from bad decks, the more excessive their social media use, and the better they did, the less their social media use. People who abuse opioids and other drugs have a similar outcome on the Iowa Gambling Task.

Given the number of people worldwide using social media, it is critical to understand its use, in order to determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction, he said.

Research has not been done yet on the addictive impact of excessive use of social media under the age of 18, but Meshi said he currently has studies underway to collect this type of adolescent data.

Meshi said he will also release research in a couple of months about President Donald Trump’s use of social media and trends about how Americans have been Tweeting since he took office.