Profile of a social media addict: Do you fit the description?

Social media addiction may be on the rise. Surprisingly, there’s been very little research on it.

We know what personality traits lend towards a greater risk of alcohol or drug addiction. But what about social media addiction? Experts say too much time spent on such pages can actually have a substantial impact on mental health. Yet, surprisingly little research has gone into information technology (IT) addiction, of which social media addiction is but one component.


According to a recent Pew Research Center poll from January, 26% of American adults are nearly constantly online. More and more, one’s favorite social media platform becomes their interface for their online experiences. As a result, social media addiction may be on the rise. Because of this, researchers from Binghamton University in New York looked into what traits all social media addicts all have in common.

Assistant professor of information systems at the university, Isaac Vaghefi, was one coauthor on this study. He said in a press release, "There has been plenty of research on how the interaction of certain personality traits affects addiction to things like alcohol and drugs. We wanted to apply a similar framework to social networking addiction." He teamed up with Hamed Qahri-Saremi of DePaul University in Chicago, and the two went about surveying 300 college students. All the information collected was self-reported.

Research psychology is just starting to understand IT addiction(s). Credit: Getty Images.

Researchers asked participants questions about their social media use which included, "I sometimes neglect important things because of my interest in this social networking website," "When I am not using this social networking website, I often feel agitated," and "I have made unsuccessful attempts to reduce the time I interact with this social networking website."

Participants’ personalities were also evaluated through a commonly used metric known as the five-factor personality model. According to this well-established metric, these five factors comprise the human personality: conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to new experiences.

Two of these traits, extraversion and openness to new experiences, weren’t associated with social media addiction. Yet, neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness were. It’s a certain combination of these traits that may make one more susceptible to an addiction to social media. Once they isolated the involved character traits, Vaghefi and Qahri-Saremi looked at how they interacted in certain combinations, and if these interactions increased or decreased one’s risk.

While some personality traits increase our risk of social media addiction, others have a moderating effect. Credit: Getty Images.

Neurosis (feelings of stress or anxiety) amplified one’s likelihood of such an addiction. Conversely, conscientiousness dampened it. Conscientiousness is considered being goal-oriented and having a high level of self-control. So what happens if you’re neurotic and conscientious? Researchers believe conscientiousness could have a moderating effect, dulling the pull of addiction, as long as the person practiced self-discipline often enough and periodically reached their goals. However, a high level of neurosis could neutralize conscientiousness’s moderating effect.

Agreeableness is defined as having a high level of friendliness and empathy toward others. Low levels of agreeableness—such as being inconsiderate or unsympathetic, could make one susceptible to social media addiction, researchers found. But this tendency was curbed when combined with conscientiousness. A low-level of both these traits however, could increase one’s addiction risk.

Perplexingly, those who had both high levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness were more prone to developing a social media addiction. Researchers explained it as a “rational addiction.” For them, it isn’t a compulsion or an impulsive decision, but a conscious one made to try and develop or deepen relationships.

Are you constantly thinking about what you’re going to post and how? Credit: Getty Images.

More research needs to be done to confirm these results. After all, the survey was only performed on one university’s campus. But these results, if corroborated, may help mental health professionals better administer to social media addicted patients. We might even find that different personality types are more prone to certain IT addictions.

How susceptible are you? Find out using the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale. Originally only applied to Facebook addiction, it has since been expanded to include all social networking sites.

The Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale

Read these six statements. For each, answer on a scale of 1-5. (1-very rarely, 2-rarely, 3-sometimes, 4-often, or 5-very often).

1. You spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning your posts.

2. You feel a need to use social media more and more.

3. You use social media in order to forget about problems in your personal life.

4. You have tried to cut down on social media use, without success.

5. You become anxious or restless when you aren’t able to use social media.

6. You use social media so often that it has a negative impact on your responsibilities (job-career/education/parenting/relationship).

If you scored a 4 or 5 (often or very often) on at least 4 statements, you may be experiencing social media addiction. If you believe you are, be sure and contact a certified mental health professional for a screening.

To learn more about social media addiction, click here.

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    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
      Patriotic.

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.


    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.