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Study: Social media more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol

By Leigh Goessl     Feb 4, 2012 in Health
A soon-to-be released study is suggesting that email and social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, are more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes.
The study, which was conducted in the German city of Würtzburg, was comprised of 205 adults between the ages of 18 and 85. Participants wore devices to record their daily desires.
According to the University of Chicago News, Asst. Prof. Wilhelm Hofmann of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and colleagues presented their research in San Diego on Jan. 27 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota co-authored the study.
Researchers found the individuals were more compulsive when it came to things such as checking email or social media accounts.
There were 10,558 responses to contacts made by researchers and a total of 7,827 reports about daily desires were recorded. In analyzing the data compiled, researchers discovered, despite the fact cigarettes and alcohol are generally thought of as addictive, the strong desire for electronic communications appears to trump these two items.
Overall, food, sleep and sex were the strongest desired, however when it came to resistance to desires, social media was the weakest link. The Guardian reported "self-control failure rates" were recorded with media.
Hofmann told the Guardian, "Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not 'cost much' to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist." Hofmann noted that alcohol and cigarettes are more costly and opportunity may not be as accessible as social media and email. "So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still 'steal' a lot of people's time."
The University of Chicago report said researchers were surprised to find that leisure and sleep were the "most problematic desires", which suggested “pervasive tension between natural inclinations to rest and relax and the multitude of work and other obligations,” said Hofmann.
The study's authors also found later in the day individuals were less likely to resist their temptations and willpower was more likely to fail. While fatigue plays a role, it is not thought to be solely responsible for giving in, say researchers.
“There appears to be no signature feeling of when willpower is low,” Baumeister said.
“Willpower fluctuates throughout the day, rather than being a constant personality trait,” said Baumeister, who also summarized at the meeting his recent lab experiments on willpower’s mental effects. “Prior resistance makes new desires seem stronger than usual," reported Science News.
Reportedly the participants' rate of resisting urges jumped from being at 15 percent succumbing early in the day to 37 percent of individuals giving in during the later hours.
The study's findings are perhaps aligned with a poll conducted by Lightspeed Research for Oxygen Media in 2010 which found women admitted to choosing to check Facebook when they woke up before taking care of basic bodily functions, such as going to the bathroom.
The full study by Hofmann, Baumeister and Vohs is entitled "Desires and Cravings: Food, Money, Status, Sex,” and will be published in the Feb. issue of Psychological Science.
More about Study, Social media, Addiction, alcohol addiction, Cigarettes
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