PSYCHOLOGY
17.06.2011

Addicted to Facebook

The Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale measures the level of restlessness for people who are addicted to social media.

The social networking community Facebook has more than 600 million users worldwide. Every month these users spend a total of 700 billion minutes on the website, according to Facebook's own figures. Many people use the website to stay in touch with friends or family, to kill a few minutes on the bus, or to do marketing in social media. But one group of people contributes more than most to the increased use of the website, and the term "Facebook addiction" is now being used by scientists.

A number of studies in the last few years have dealt with the increasing dependency on social media. Scientists at the University of Maryland recently published research showing that four out of five students experienced significant mental and physical discomfort when they were forced to be without digital technology for a full day.

Researching web addiction

– The use of Facebook has increased rapidly. We are talking about a subdivision of internet addiction connected to social media. There are a number of opinions and views on this, but there has not been any significant research in Norway on this so far, says Cecilie Schou Andreassen, Doctor of Psychology at the University of Bergen.

Schou Andreassen has been heading a research project at the University called “Facebook Addiction”. Her doctoral thesis was on work addiction and she has practised in clinical psychology and also as a senior consultant to the private sector, thus making her perfectly situated to assess this new form of technological addiction.

– Many companies need more expertise in dealing with their employees’ Facebook habits. How it affects work and how to handle it. If you go to a company meeting today, you may very well find employees who spend the meetings receiving notifications and updating their Facebook status, she says.

Six warning signs

As Facebook has become as ubiquitous in our everyday life as television, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many people to assess whether one is becoming addicted to social networking or not. Schou Andreassen’s studies use six basic criteria to identify whether or not you are addicted to Facebook:

  • You think about Facebook even when you are not online.
  • You have tried to cut back on your visits without succeeding.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when not on Facebook.
  • Facebook use has impacted negatively on your work or your studies.
  • You use Facebook to forget about private problems.
  • You feel the urge to use Facebook more and more.

The studies show that the symptoms of Facebook addiction are closely related to addiction to drugs, alcohol, and chemical substances.

Women in danger zone

The researchers have clear theories about why some people develop Facebook dependency.

– It clearly occurs more regularly amongst younger users than amongst the older. We have also found that people who worry a lot and are more anxious and socially insecure, use Facebook because they find it easier to stay in touch with others through social media, says Schou Andreassen.

People who are better organised and more ambitious tend to be less at risk from Facebook addiction. They will usually prioritise differently and use social media as an integrated part of work and networking. A workaholic may spend a vast amount of time at his or her computer, but tends to use social media differently from those who develop Facebook addiction, according to Schou Andreassen’s research. For the addict, using Facebook may be a way to avoid performing dreaded work chores and to socialise instead.

– Our research indicates that women are more at risk of developing Facebook addiction, mainly due to the social nature of Facebook. Men are overrepresented when it comes to addiction to gambling and similar, whereas women are overrepresented when it comes to texting and mobile addiction, explains Schou Andreassen.

The Bergen Scale

The Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale is a tool developed by Schou Andreassen and her research team as part of the project. This embraces the six danger signs mentioned, which are regarded as a central element in any type of addiction.

Preliminary research was conducted in January, with participation from 423 students from three different campuses. The average age of the participants was 22. Next the research team will be using this material to study potential reasons and fallout factors in a Norwegian context. In particular they will be focussing on use of Facebook at work.

Schou Andreassen heads the project, and is working closely with Professor Ståle Pallesen from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen.

 

Translated from the Norwegian by Sverre Ole Drønen.