Social Media: fear of missing out


With the emergence of social media, new problems have surfaced. However, the question is whether these problems are substantial enough to consider. For instance, internet addiction can be considered a new issue, but addiction existed in other forms before the internet came to be. And since addiction has been tied to biological processes, these underlying mechanisms could make individuals more susceptible to (internet) addiction (Vink et al. 2015; Kühn and Gallinat, 2015; Zhang et al. 2015). But let’s focus on the social spaces in this virtual world, which created a new fear: the fear of missing out.

However since the fear of missing (FoMO) out is still a new concept in regards to online communication, I still find it quite broadly defined. It seems to be used mainly in regards to social networking sites, but you can imagine that this could also be used in terms of other online services, such as messaging applications. People share social information on sites such as Facebook and people might feel like missing out on such information when not regularly checking this site. Since all of these different services can be accessed through a smartphone, it has become difficult for people to not regularly check for new notifications. Different people have voiced their criticism on device use and often refer to a time when the internet wasn’t a ‘big thing’. But not having access to the internet is almost unthinkable in many parts of the world today. It is not just used to keep in touch with our family or friends, but government departments, schools, employers, etc. expect us to be able to use the internet. Lacking skills or access could ultimately result in digital exclusion.

Though the fear of missing out is also applicable in the offline world. People not being able to attend a ‘get together’ or not being invited to one could also elicit this fear. Przybylski et al (2013) created a FoMO scale to measure this construct for their study. Items included in the scale were:
“Sometimes, I wonder if I spend too much time keeping up with what is going on”.
“When I go on vacation, I continue to keep tabs on what my friends are doing”.
These same researchers found that especially young males are susceptible to FoMO. Those who score high on this construct are more likely to check their social media when waking up, during eating, and before going to sleep. Students high on FoMO were also more likely to engage in social media use during lectures. And lastly, high scoring FoMO individuals tend to use their smartphone while driving.

Dossey (2014) wrote an interesting article about the practicalities of FoMO. For instance, he discusses a new term coined by South Korean doctors, digital dementia. In this new “dementia” people’s right side of the brain become underdeveloped, while the left side is overdeveloped. Symptoms tied to this phenomenon affect memory and attention span, and impulse control.

Here I want to postulate that there could be underlying biological mechanisms at work in regards to online behaviors. There have been studies in such settings, for instance, Sherman et al. (2016) found increased activity in neural pathways (using fMRI) when adolescents were exposed to pictures with many ‘likes’. This activity is related to reward systems.
The feel-good hormones in those reward systems stimulate us to carry out certain behaviors. If we have been enforced to do something that releases such hormones, we are very likely to keep repeating them. That is why we engage in certain behaviors, such as eating delicious food, having sex, and check our phone. And if seeing a notification pop up on our smartphone screens can elicit such strong feelings, it is only natural for us to feel so attached to our phones.

Dossey, L. (2014). FOMO, Digital Dementia, and Our Dangerous Experiment

Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2015). Brains online: structural and functional correlates of habitual Internet use. Addiction biology, 20(2), 415-422.

Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848.

Sherman, L. E., Payton, A. A., Hernandez, L. M., Greenfield, P. M., & Dapretto, M. (2016). The power of the like in adolescence: Effects of peer influence on neural and behavioral responses to social media. Psychological science, 27(7), 1027-1035.

Vink, J. M., Beijsterveldt, T. C., Huppertz, C., Bartels, M., & Boomsma, D. I. (2015). Heritability of compulsive Internet use in adolescents. Addiction biology.

Zhang, J. T., Yao, Y. W., Li, C. S. R., Zang, Y. F., Shen, Z. J., Liu, L., … & Fang, X. Y. (2015). Altered resting‐state functional connectivity of the insula in young adults with Internet gaming disorder. Addiction biology.

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