(CN) – Excessive users of social media can fall victim to the same risky choices as drug and gambling addicts, according to a new study.
The research by behavioral scientists from Michigan State University is the first to look at the connection between social media use and the impaired decision-making associated with addiction.
Two billion people regularly use social media, and the ubiquity of smartphones and cheap data transforms the feeling of constant connection into a pathological issue for some people.
Though they have not yet been fully studied, some researchers have identified internet, online gaming and social media addictions as real phenomena.
A study published in the Journal of Behavior Addictions this week examined parallels between excessive social media users and other addicts.
The team surveyed 71 participants between the ages of 18 and 35 at a large German university about their psychological dependence on Facebook. The students answered questions about how preoccupied they were with it, how it affected their work or studies, and attempts to quit using it.
Then the participants took the Iowa Gambling Task, which is a test used to evaluate decision-making.
In the Iowa Gambling Task, participants look at patterns in decks of cards and pick the best possible deck.
The MSU team found a relationship between the people who used Facebook excessively and those who chose from bad decks. Compared to other studies using that test, the excessive Facebook users scored similarly to drug addicts.
“Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders,” lead study author Dar Meshi said in a statement. “They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes.”
But Meshi clarified that a connection between excessive social media use and poor decision making didn’t mean the social media usage caused the poor decisions. Another underlying issue could be at play.
“While we didn’t test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use,” Meshi said.
“Our results have important societal implications,” the authors say in the study’s conclusion.
“Our current finding, which demonstrates a behavioral similarity between excessive [social media] use and substance use and behavioral addictive disorders, can influence the beliefs and practices of policy makers, therapists, and tech industry leaders,” the study says.