Skip to content

‘Fear of missing out’ driving social media addiction, study suggests

Fear of missing out, or ‘FOMO’, is among the biggest causes of social media addiction, a new study suggests.

Mobile phones
The study investigated participants’ personalities and their social media use

Psychologists at Nottingham Trent University investigated the factors driving addiction to social networking sites among people in the UK.

The study investigated a range of factors relating to participants’ personalities and their social media use.

Writing in the international journal CyberPsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, the team found that about 5% of participants could be classed as being at high risk of addiction.

When looking at the collective factors driving their addictive behaviour, FOMO, irrational beliefs and poor mental health explained participants’ social media addiction almost entirely.

And when they looked at each of the factors individually, the researchers found that FOMO was the most significant contributing factor to explain the emergence of social media addiction.

FOMO relates to a feeling that friends and connections are leading more interesting and rewarding lives, creating a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing online.

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Tumblr were all used by participants, with Facebook being the most widely used (99% of participants) followed by Instagram (72%).

The majority of participants used four different social networking sites.

Almost a third of participants (32%) claimed to use social networking sites ‘a great deal’ every day – the most amount of time – with the same figure claiming to have suffered problems due to their social networking use.

The study also found that those at high risk of addiction used significantly more social media platforms.

“When experiencing FOMO chronically, it could lead to addictive behaviour towards social media use,” said Dr Halley Pontes, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences.

He said: “It is important to know that FOMO may be worsened by the fact that we are being constantly reminded about what we are missing out on via all the notifications we receive to our phones. One potential strategy to curb FOMO may be to manage which notifications we want to receive.

“Although the origin of FOMO may vary from one person to another, it is often a result of a deficit in psychological need, such as social connection. For this reason, living a socially fulfilling life where psychological needs toward social connections can be met may also help overcome anxiety associated with FOMO.”

“Previous studies have tended to focus exclusively on Facebook addiction, but we have gone beyond this to examine a range of social networking sites. We hope the findings might also be of use to therapists in helping them to refine their treatment.”

Earlier this year, research by Dr Pontes revealed that addiction to videogames was affecting people psychologically and physically, as well as having a negative impact on personal and social relationships.

The latest study also involved the Cairnmiller Institute in Australia and the University of Athens.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email; or Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    • Nottingham Trent University was named University of the Year 2017 at the Times Higher Education Awards and Modern University of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. The award recognises NTU for its strong student satisfaction, quality of teaching, overall student experience and engagement with employers.
    • Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has been awarded the highest, gold, rating in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework for its outstanding teaching and learning.
    • NTU is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.
    • The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable Nottingham Trent to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.
    • NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. It recognised the University’s pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.
    • With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.
Published on 4 June 2018
  • Subject area: Psychology, sociology, health and social care
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences