August 15, 2020

Liss Discusses Social Media Addiction in Gizmodo Article

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss was recently interviewed by a reporter for Gizmodo in an article entitled, “Why is Social Media So Addictive?”

Social media is so addictive because it plays on one of the most fundamental aspects of what it means to be human—our need for social connection with others. We post and wait for other people to like or comment on our posts. We like and comment on other people’s posts as an act of social reciprocity, and it feels as though we are connecting to others.

The rewards are intermittent and unpredictable—we never know when we log on whether we have gotten more likes, comments, or followers. It is well known that intermittent and unpredictable rewards are the most addictive—think about slot machines. The anticipation while the app loads heightens the excitement and addictive nature. Features like streaks in Snapchat play on our desire not to let other people down (and break a streak) as well as the idea that the more time and investment we have put into something (known as sunk costs) the more investment we have in keeping it going.

Interestingly, our desire for social rewards can make us act in ways that undermine the value of those rewards. We often present only the partial truth about ourselves and manipulate our stories or photos in order to make ourselves look better to increase our likes and positive comments. When we do that, however, the likes and positive feedback can seem hollow and make us feel bad. I recently published a study with my colleague and students that linked photo manipulation on Instagram to feelings of depression through a sense that one was being disingenuous about what was posted. 

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