Category Archives: Facebook

Research finds heavy Facebook users make impaired decisions like drug addicts

Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring the idea that there’s more to “social media addiction” than casual joking about being too online might suggest. Their paper, titled “Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task” (Meshi, Elizarova, Bender and Verdejo-Garcia) and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, indicates that people who use social media sites heavily actually display some of the behavioral hallmarks of someone addicted to cocaine or heroin.

The study asked 71 participants to first rate their own Facebook usage with a measure known as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. The study subjects then went on to complete something called the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a classic research tool that evaluates impaired decision making. The IGT presents participants with four virtual decks of cards associated with rewards or punishments and asks them to choose cards from the decks to maximize their virtual winnings. As the study explains, “Participants are also informed that some decks are better than others and that if they want to do well, they should avoid the bad decks and choose cards from the good decks.”

What the researchers found was telling. Study participants who self-reported as excessive Facebook users actually performed worse than their peers on the IGT, frequenting the two “bad” decks that offer immediate gains but ultimate result in losses. That difference in behavior was statistically significant in the latter portion of the IGT, when a participant has had ample time to observe the deck’s patterns and knows which decks present the greatest risk.

The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain injuries to heroin addicts, but using it as a measure to examine social media addicts is novel. Along with deeper, structural research, it’s clear that researchers can apply to social media users much of the existing methodological framework for learning about substance addiction.

The study is narrow, but interesting, and offers a few paths for follow-up research. As the researchers recognize, in an ideal study, the researchers could actually observe participants’ social media usage and sort them into categories of high or low social media usage based on behavior rather than a survey they fill out.

Future research could also delve more deeply into excessive users across different social networks. The study only looked at Facebook use, “because it is currently the most widely used [social network] around the world,” but one could expect to see similar results with the billion-plus monthly Instagram and potentially the substantially smaller portion of people on Twitter.

Ultimately, we know that social media is shifting human behavior and potentially its neurological underpinnings, we just don’t know the extent of it — yet. Due to the methodical nature of behavioral research and the often extremely protracted process of publishing it, we likely won’t know for years to come the results of studies conducted now. Still, as this study proves, there are researchers at work examining how social media is impacting our brains and our behavior — we just might not be able to see the big picture for some time.

Facebook cuts down annoying “now connected on Messenger” alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook’ Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow”, and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about over use, we may be able to make swifter progress towards them respecting our attention.

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