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Facebook isn’t addictive — it’s just makes people happy

This article was revised on February 13th to include data from other studies

A lot has been written about “Facebook addiction.” Indeed some press coverage of a recent study from the University of Chicago suggests that “Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol.” But a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking puts a positive spin on the issue. Could it be that, just like eating chocolate, Facebook and Twitter are simply fun and pleasurable?

The word “addictive” doesn’t appear once in the report, “Why Is Facebook So Successful? Psychophysiological Measures Describe a Core Flow State While Using Facebook,” (PDF) but it does point out that ” the successful spread of SNSs (social networking services) might be associated with a specific positive affective state experienced by users when they use their SNSs account.”

The researchers analyzed users’ skin conductance, blood volume pulse, electroencephalogram (brain waves), respiratory activity and pupil dilation in 30 healthy subjects “during a 3-minute exposure to a slide show of natural panoramas (relaxation condition),” and “the subject’s personal Facebook account” and found that Facebook use correlated with responses from people who are in a positive emotional state. The technical term, surprisingly, is “flow,” which according to the researchers occurs when “people in free-time activities that did not seem to follow the utility-centered motivational theories of the time” experienced “intense engagement and enjoyment.”

So, is this a bad thing? I suppose some people could interpret anything positive that people return to often as addictive, but if “intense engagement and emotional enjoyment” is a bad thing than we have to worry more than just Facebook, Twitter and chocolate. We would also have to include great works of art, beautiful music, great toys, award-winning movies, attractive people and anything else that brings us pleasure.

Users get more than they give

Another study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, entitled “Why most Facebook users get more than they give” found that people are likely to get more friend requests and “likes” and be tagged more often than they friend, like or tag others. That’s because there are power users on the service who seem to go out of their way to reach out to others, making up for the fact that some of us are not so gregarious.  Even messaging is uneven. On average people in the study send 9 personal messages but received 12.

Generations unite

Just in time for last week’s Safer Internet Day, Microsoft and AARP released a study that found that 83% of those surveyed “consider going online to be a “helpful” form of communication for family members of all ages,” while  30% of grandparents and 29% of teens and young adults agree that connecting online has helped them “better understand” the other.  Nearly two-thirds (63%) of 13-25 year olds said they prefer text messaging to stay in touch but they might have trouble getting older folks to see those messages. Only 31 % of 39-75 year olds agree.  For older folks, email is the preferred means of electronic communication.

For a somewhat personal take on “Growing signs that social media are good for us,” see my co-director Anne Collier’s post at NetFamilyNews.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook and other Internet companies.

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