FILE - This May 16, 2012 file photo shows the Facebook logo displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia. More Americans check Facebook daily than read the Bible every day. Much more, by more than a three-to-one margin. As Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary, the numbers it generates are epic. Facebook says worldwide it has 757 million daily active users. Of those 19 percent are in the U.S. and Canada, so that’s more than 143 million people checking Facebook daily in America. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Photo: Matt Rourke
Photo: Matt Rourke

People hooked on Facebook share similarities with cocaine addicts, study says

If you're a person who continuously scrolls on your Facebook timeline, your brain reacts in a similar way to people who use cocaine, a new study reports. Other studies compare brain functions of those who obsessively use the Internet to brain changes that are seen in alcoholics and gamblers.

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In a study published in "Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma," undergraduate students at California State University completed a questionnaire to assess how addicted they are to Facebook. The questionnaire examined addiction-like symptoms such as anxiety, withdrawal and conflict. A separate test required the students to respond to a series of images, some random and some related to Facebook. 

Those who responded quickly when they saw Facebook-related images also scored high on the addiction test.

According to the study, Facebook triggers activated the amygdala, which helps establish the significance of events and emotions, and the striatum, which is involved in the processing and anticipation of rewards. 

"The findings indicate that at least at the examined levels of addiction-like symptoms, technology-related 'addictions' share some neural features with substance and gambling addictions," explained the researchers. 

Unlike cocaine addicts, Facebook users showed no negative effects of brain systems responsible for inhibition. 

However, some of the participants responded to Facebook stimuli faster than they did to road signs. 

“This is scary when you think about it, since it means that users might respond to a Facebook message on their mobile device before reacting to traffic conditions if they are using technology while on the road,” said professor Ofir Turel of California State. 

But Tural said the addictive behavior can be reversed. It's not as hard for people to wean themselves off of Facebook as it is for other addicts to deny drugs and alcohol.

"The behavior can be corrected with treatment. We speculate that addictive behavior in this case stems from low motivation to control the behavior, which is due partly to the relatively benign societal and personal consequences of technology overuse, compared to, say, substance abuse,” he said. 

Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a psychologist at the University of Bergen in Norway, said the study might not have been accurate because only 20 students participated in the questionnaire. "It is therefore questionable whether this sample is appropriate for investigating Facebook addiction," she said.

Social media sites like Facebook can be perceived as addictive because they offer four key elements: a trigger, such as loneliness, boredom or stress; an action, such as logging in to Facebook; an unpredictable or variable reward, such as scrolling through a mix of juicy and boring tidbits in the newsfeed; and investment, which includes posting pictures or liking someone's status update, said Nir Eyal, and author of "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products."

"Facebook is a poster child for a company that has these hooks," Eyal told Live Science.

According to the Independent, approximately 71 percent of Internet users have a Facebook account, and 70 percent of account holders visit the site every day. The news organization reported that just under 50 percent of Facebook users visit the site multiple times a day.

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