When was the last time you checked your phone? According to NYU professor Adam Alter, the average millennial picks up their smartphone 150 times a day. In his book Irresistible, Dr. Alter writes about technology addiction, suggesting that 40 percent of people have some kind of internet-based addiction, be that to social media, pornography or email (which the average worker checks 36 times an hour).
The “tech zombie epidemic,” he says, is the direct result of the way technology is designed: we get a thrill every time we open the Instagram app (Will I have any likes?) or our emails (Have they replied yet?) – comparable to the behavioral gratification we get from playing slot machines.
As technology becomes ubiquitous in our work and private lives, understanding how we interact with it is increasingly important. Addiction disorders connected to people’s interactions with games, the internet and social media are emerging as a major scientific research topic, and the findings will help shape the way we deal with changing technology at work and at home in the future.
In this special collection, we have collated some of the recent research on modern addiction. The articles look at this emerging topic from a range of angles, such as the causes of internet addiction in young adults and the link between excessive social media use, narcissism and self-esteem.
Fear of missing out
Our ultra-connected world means we can be in many places at once; enjoying a coffee on a sunny terrace while dialing in to a conference call and watching a friend’s video broadcast live from their holiday in New Zealand.
With apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, we can stay in touch with people around the world 24 hours a day. For some, this can lead to excessive use and negative consequences. Accessing these apps easily and using them frequently can trigger a fear of missing out – people can be anxious about missing something if they’re not constantly connected.
Using a sample of 270 participants, a team led by researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany investigated the role of this fear in the development of internet communication disorder. In their article in Addictive Behaviors Reports, the team noted that online communication apps give people a way to escape from the negative feelings and conflicts of real life, but that using them for this purpose excessively can turn into an addiction. They called for further research, concluding:
Users should be taught that Internet-communication applications are not the only way to initiate or stay in contact with others and satisfy their social needs. Individuals should be offered alternative strategies and opportunities for connecting with other people without having the feeling of missing out on something.
‘All about me’
At the same time, there is a suggestion that excessive use of social media may be feeding narcissism. In Norway, researchers at the University of Bergen studied the social media use of more than 23,500 people, revealing that addictive social media use is linked to low self-esteem but also narcissism. Through web surveys on the websites of Norway’s national newspapers, the team gathered information from 8,234 men and 15,298 women about their social media use and personality traits.
The results, published in Addictive Behaviors, highlighted demographic differences, showing higher social media addiction scores in people who were younger, women, not in a relationship, students and less educated. There was a negative link with self-esteem, with lower self-esteem linked to higher addiction, and a positive link with narcissism. In their paper, the researchers explained:
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media applications may serve as ideal social arenas for individuals who appreciate and are attracted to engaging in ego-enhancing activities.
Gaming: the new internet addiction?
Internet gaming can also provoke addictive behavior, with potentially serious negative impacts on people’s psychological and physical health. Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft have millions of committed players, and rising awareness of the dangers of addiction have resulted in groups like Wowaholics Anonymous to support addicts.
But why do some people become addicted when others can play without a problem? Although some empirical studies have investigated the link between impulsive behavior and internet gaming disorder (IGD), the results have been mixed, making it difficult to draw conclusions. Researchers at Ball State University in the US conducted a meta-analysis of studies featuring three different cognitive tasks. Their article in Addictive Behaviors shows that compared to healthy people, those with IGD are more likely to have an impaired response inhibition.
As with substance addictions, stopping an addictive behavior can result in withdrawal symptoms. The entry for IGD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the US – lists withdrawal symptoms including irritability, anxiety and sadness.
In their study in Addictive Behaviors Reports, researchers at Flinders University and the University of Adelaide in Australia looked at the effect of stopping online gaming on various withdrawal symptoms. They followed 24 MMO game players, both with and without indication to IGD, as they abstained from playing for 84 hours.
Contrary to expectations, internet gaming withdrawal symptoms were observed to decrease during short-term abstinence, opening further debate on the direct application of addiction concepts like withdrawal and tolerance to problematic internet gaming behaviors. This is an interesting finding which could suggest, for example, that technological addictions don’t follow all the “rules” of addiction that substance addictions do.
Read the collection
While we adjust to cope with the psychological effects of social media, gaming and internet use, researchers are working to understand the underlying triggers and consequences of our behavior. Here you can read some of the latest research, which provides an up-to-date overview of online addiction in the modern world. The collection is free until December 31, 2017.
Addictive Behaviors Reports
- Individual differences in implicit learning abilities and impulsive behavior in the context of Internet addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder under the consideration of gender
- Trajectories of abstinence-induced Internet gaming withdrawal symptoms: A prospective pilot study
- Traits associated with internet addiction in young adults: Potential risk factors
- Online-specific fear of missing out and Internet-use expectancies contribute to symptoms of Internet-communication disorder
- Mood changes after watching pornography on the Internet are linked to tendencies towards Internet-pornography-viewing disorder
- Internet use and problematic Internet use among adolescents in Japan: A nationwide representative survey
- The evolution of Internet addiction
- Big five personality and adolescent Internet addiction: The mediating role of coping style
- The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey
- Response Inhibition and Internet Gaming Disorder: A Meta-analysis
- Maladaptive cognitions predict changes in problematic gaming in highly-engaged adults: A 12-month longitudinal study
- Free-to-play: About addicted Whales, at risk Dolphins and healthy Minnows. Monetarization design and Internet Gaming Disorder
Publishing research on modern addiction
Researchers working on modern addictions have a range of publishing options with Elsevier, including open access titles like Addictive Behaviors Reports – a peer-reviewed, online-only journal that provides an interdisciplinary forum for research on addictive behaviors. The journal publishes scientifically sound research on all forms of addictive behavior, with a primary focus on behavioral and psychosocial research.
We were already familiar with this journal and appreciated the fact that this journal is open for modern types of addictive behaviors, such as an excessive use of Internet communication applications. In addition, we also knew that the journal welcomes empirical work on non-traditional psychological concepts, such as fear of missing out.
We chose Addictive Behaviors Reports because it catered so well to novel work of a more preliminary nature that may otherwise be difficult to disseminate. Open access is great for making the work much more accessible to a wider audience, particularly practitioners working in the addictions field.