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Texas State University

New research sheds light on Social Media addiction

Research & Innovation

Jayme Blaschke | March 4, 2020

line of people on their smart phones

New research from Texas State University shows that users are more likely to become addicted to social media platforms that successfully meet the individual’s needs, but also that empathy for others can act as a buffering factor against addiction. 

The study was conducted by Stephanie Dailey, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies, Krista Howard, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Sinjin M.P. Roming, graduate student alumnus in the Department of Psychology, Natalie Ceballos, professor in the Department of Psychology, and Tom Grimes, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Their research, “A biopsychosocial approach to understanding social media addiction,” is published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies (onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hbe2.182).

The Texas State study used an interdisciplinary approach to understand predictors of social media addiction across four of the most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Previous social media research focused heavily on Facebook, but the growth and widespread availability of various platforms warranted a broader survey. 

“We tried to have a more encompassing view,” Dailey said. “We know there’s been a huge surge in other social media platforms. Instagram, in particular, is growing at a rapid rate, so we looked at four of the most popular social media platforms to try and have a robust spread of people’s activity. 

“We found that the more that people feel like social media is meeting their needs, the more addicted they become. So, the more needs it can meet, the higher the likelihood they’re going to use it more and become more addicted,” she said. “That’s a new insight, and that’s a concerning insight, because these tools are doing more and more things. Think of all the things you can do on Facebook now--people used to just put pictures up of their families, but now you can buy things, create groups, make payments, all kinds of activities.”

Analyses demonstrated that biological (age), social (including gender, intensity of use, need for social media and social comparison) and psychological factors (specifically stress, empathic concern, conscientiousness and depression) accounted for more than 50% of the explained variance in social media addiction. In other words, the authors identified more than half the reasons why people might be addicted to social media in this study. The researchers’ findings demonstrate that although younger individuals are highly susceptible to social media addiction, users who manifest heightened empathy toward others may have an enhanced psychological resiliency against addiction. 

“The more you have empathy for others, that serves as a kind of buffer against addiction,” Dailey said. “We propose people are more likely to unplug because they’re feeling so much empathy. When they’re seeing negative things on social media, it causes them to retract and cut off their use, and not be as addicted. 

“Most of it seems like common sense. These are things we take for granted a lot of the time,” she said. “But we can’t really put faith in something unless there’s data behind it.”   

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922