AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — A glimpse of the Facebook logo or a screenshot of the social media network’s newsfeed triggers “spontaneous hedonic reactions” in which frequent users desire the immediate gratification of viewing Facebook, a new study finds.
Daily or near-daily social media users show “strong and positive spontaneous affective reactions” to simple Facebook cues, which prevents many frequent users from resisting their temptation to log on to the social media giant. This failure to resist social media caused many to view it as a “seductive temptation” and fueled feelings of guilt, decreased overall media enjoyment and ultimately had a negative effect on people’s general well-being.
As part of a study entitled, “Spontaneous Hedonic Reactions to Social Media Cues,” researchers from the Netherlands and Michigan State University set out to analyze why it’s difficult for many to resist their desire to use social media. The co-authors explain that networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are ubiquitous and are readily available to provide instant gratification to basically anyone with access to the Internet or a smartphone.
“People often use social media because they offer immediate gratifications and satisfy many needs, and using social media has been found to evoke a psychophysiological state high in positive valence and arousal,” write the study co-authors.
The researchers said that after extended exposure to social media cues (Facebook logo) and their ensuing pleasure from immediately logging on, “[U]sers may learn to associate the concept of social media with a pleasant, hedonic state.”
Results from two studies showed that frequent social media users expressed more favorable affective reactions in response to social media cues (photos of Facebook’s homepage) versus neutral control group cues (a stapler or other random object). Less-frequent users’ affective reactions did not differ between social media and control cues. The spontaneous hedonic reactions to the social media cues (vs. control cues) were related to self-reported cravings to use it and the researchers say it accounts for at least a partial link between social media use and social media cravings.
Daily social media users self-reported that nearly one-third of their time spent on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. during a typical day was in conflict with other goals they had in life and caused them to use their time less efficiently.
The study explains that social media use — and its increasing availability anytime, anywhere — can be highly gratifying to provide a reliable source of pleasure, helps to level out one’s mood and “fuel psychological well-being.” It can also fulfill people’s needs as serious as needing to belong or as shallow as simply passing the time.
“Findings in this study seem to be in line with previous research on cues and cravings in foods (such as chocolate) and substances (such as nicotine),” says Brenda K. Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers, in a press release. “Understanding hedonic reactions, both psychological and physiological, to social media cues can help us to develop more effective treatment and prevention protocols.”
The researchers say frequent users’ hedonic reaction can easily be reactivated by perceptual cues (seeing Facebook’s app icon on your phone) or internal cues (briefly thinking about checking their Facebook). The study authors acknowledged the cross-sectional limitation of the study as well as using only Facebook in these studies. They said future research should utilize experimental or longitudinal methods and that while most of their participants were only “relatively moderate users,” heavy users of social media should be examined.
This study was published in the April 2017 edition of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.