The use of Social Networking Sites (SNSs) has exponentially increased over the past decade, leading to warnings about the addictive potential of this technology. Yet, the idea of SNS addiction remains controversial and more theory-driven research is required to understand the mechanisms of excessive and compulsive SNS use and to facilitate the development of targeted interventions helping affected users. In the present article we propose to utilize a reward-based approach to further our understanding of these behaviors. In particular, we suggest that concepts borrowed from the drug addiction literature that focus on incentive processes (incentive-sensitization and cue reactivity) can explain some SNS behaviors, such as compulsive checking. One elemental finding of the neurobiological drug addiction literature is that repeated exposure to a rewarding substance can render the brain’s reward system oversensitive to cues related to the drug. We report preliminary findings from 358 participants showing that cue-elicited urges to use SNSs characterized both excessive and problematic use behaviors. Moreover, desires and urges to use SNSs (wanting responses) could be reliably dissociated from the enjoyment and pleasure (liking responses) associated with SNSs, with the latter being less predictive of the intensity and problematicity of behaviors than the former. Such divergence between motivational and hedonic processes is another hallmark finding in the literature on drug and food rewards. Together our initial findings thus suggest that examining alterations of reward processes holds promise to explain the compulsive use of SNSs and to identify potential avenues to help affected individuals.
Ihssen, N., & Wadsley, M. (2021). A Reward and Incentive-Sensitization Perspective on Compulsive Use of Social Networking Sites - Wanting but not Liking Predicts Checking Frequency and Problematic Use Behavior. Addictive Behaviors, 116, Article 106808. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106808