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Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, study finds

Updated 4 years ago
Published Feb 6th, 2012 11:30AM EST

A new study suggests that social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter are more difficult to resist than cigarettes or alcohol. A team from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently conducted an experiment involving 205 people in Wurtzburg, Germany to analyze the addictive properties of social media and other vices. Participants in the week-long study were polled via BlackBerry smartphones seven times per day and asked to report when they experienced a desire within the past 30 minutes, and whether or not the succumbed to that desire. They were also asked to gauge each desire on a scale from mild to “irresistible.”

In total, 10,558 responses were recorded and a total of 7,827 “desire episodes” were reported by participants. The results of the team’s study will soon be published in the Psychological Science journal, however preliminary data provided to The Guardian suggests the highest rate of “self-control failures” were tied to social media services.

“Modern life is a welter of assorted desires marked by frequent conflict and resistance, the latter with uneven success,” said Wilhelm Hofmann, the leader of team conducting the study. Hofmann suggests people may fail to resist social media so much because there is no obvious or immediate downside to checking services like Twitter or Facebook. He does warn that these services can ultimately be a huge drain on users’ time, however.

“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 said. “With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs – long-term as well as monetary – and the opportunity may not always be the right one. So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people’s time.”

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content.

Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment. His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.