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Excessive social media use could lead to poor decision-making

Researchers compare the behaviors to those of drug addicts

Photo (c) blackday - Fotolia
For many consumers, spending too much time on social media often happens subconsciously. We pick up our phones, and before long, hours have passed.

While many of us think nothing of the extra time spent scrolling on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, a new study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University found that too much time on social media can lead to bad decision-making.

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

Too much time online

Meshi and his team didn’t explore why users are making poor decisions, but they were curious to see if there was a correlation between too much time on social media and future decision-making.

The researchers conducted a survey in which 70 participants answered questions about their social media use. The questions were tailored to see how dependent the participants were on social media, how they feel when they can’t use it, and how they’d feel about never using it again.

Following the survey, the participants completed a common psychological task that helps gauge decision-making skills -- the Iowa Gambling Task.

The goal of the task is for participants to collect as much money as possible. Each participant is presented with four identical decks of cards. By following patterns presented throughout the task, they were asked to choose between “good decks” -- which rewarded them with money -- and “bad decks” -- which penalized them.

The researchers found that those who spent more time on social media were likely to have less money at the end of the task, while people who spent less time on social media finished the task with more money.

The group noted that many drug addicts perform similarly on the Iowa Gambling Task, as they have difficulty making good decisions. According to Meshi, this study uncovered another layer of social media’s effect on society, and more research needs to be done to better educate consumers.

“I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there’s also a dark side when people can’t pull themselves away,” Meshi said. “We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction.”

Social media addiction

Much research has been done recently that explores the way consumers are using social media, showing both the positives and negatives of the platforms.

A recent study looked at what it would cost certain consumers to deactivate their Facebook profiles for up to one year. Experimental auctions revealed that it would cost anywhere from $1,100 to over $2,000 for the study’s participants to cancel their Facebook profiles for that long.

The study included college students, residents of a large midwestern town, and respondents of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. As costly as the bids ran, some users refused to bid at all, signaling their dependence on Facebook and their unwillingness to even consider deactivating their profiles.

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