October 25, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Things are all atwitter in the social networking sphere after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took the risky decision to float a proportion of shares for the site last week. Although this may not have been as successful as planned, social networking sites are constantly accessible, incredibly popular and seem to be unavoidable. Following revelations earlier this year that Twitter is more difficult to resist than cigarettes or alcohol, research released this week indicates that there might also be deeper psychological roots to our love of Facebook: we might be addicted to logging in.

The study, led by Dr Cecilie Andreassen of the University of Bergen, monitored the behaviour of 423 male and female students and developed a six-point assessment named the ‘Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale’. Facebook has amassed a staggering 900 million users worldwide. “Bearing in mind that some of these users may become addicted to the social network, we aimed to construct a sound procedure to measure this phenomenon,” explains Andreassen. The scale includes criteria concerning how you think about Facebook, how often you use it, unsuccessful attempts to cut down on using the site and the negative impact that Facebook has on your job or studies. The scale inferred that addiction is linked to extraversion, and is more likely amongst users that are young, socially insecure, less ambitious, disorganised, and female.

Andreassen’s research is based on the fundamental principles of general addiction theory. It uses diagnostic criteria used to detect other behavioural addictions, as the social mechanisms displayed by Facebook addicts appear to be similar to those displayed in pathological gamblers or alcoholics. “Traditionally, addiction is understood in terms of uncontrollable habits involving drugs and alcohol,” says Andreassen. Now researchers are beginning to understand that people can exhibit addiction to various behaviours, too. Studies within this field face a promising future as the number of people using sites such as Facebook continues to grow.

However, can we be sure that virtual behaviour accurately represents ‘real life’? According to Dr. Andreassen, we can. “One of our basic psychological needs is to relate to and interact with other people,” says Andreassen. “Social networking sites are just another arena for human communication and social interaction.”  The scale has so far been developed using a sample of student volunteers, but has shown to be “psychometrically sound” on different populations. An article about the results has just been published in Psychological Reports.

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