Bloomicon/ShutterstockHave you ever unlocked your phone to check an email, then somehow found yourself scrolling through Facebook for 10 straight minutes before even realizing what you were doing? You’re not alone. There’s something about social media that keeps us coming back for more (and more and more).
A study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that even just looking at the Facebook logo could spark pleasure. And that little boost could keep you coming back for more, or even show signs you’re sharing too much on social media.
Participants looked at either a Facebook-related picture or another neutral image, then a Chinese character. The volunteers who said they used Facebook the most were more likely than those who don’t use the site as often to rate the Chinese symbol as pleasant when it was next to a Facebook image. “People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook,” co-author Allison Eden, PhD, assistant professor in Michigan State University’s communication department says in a statement. “Seeing anything associated with Facebook is enough to bring that positive association back.”
Because your brain knows you’ll get a boost from looking at Facebook, you could find yourself opening the page more often than any other app—a sure sign of Facebook addiction.
But that’s not all. In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at who craved Facebook the most. Unsurprisingly, the people who craved it most were also the ones who used it most.
So why do we start using it so much in the first place? Basically, we’re bored, and looking at our phones gives us something to do. And we go straight to Facebook because it trained us to. “The internal trigger is boredom, and the external trigger are these notifications—every time someone posts something and you get a little jewel icon on your phone that says check Facebook,” Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, tells Business Insider.
But eventually, we don’t even need to be bored or to see a notification to give us the itch, Eyal says. Once you post or message someone, you’ll probably get a response, which means another notification that brings you back. Soon it becomes a habit. We’ll open Facebook totally absentmindedly, whether it’s to avoid work or because we have a whopping 45 seconds to kill waiting in line. (May we suggest these genuinely productive things you can do in five minutes instead?)
And like any habit, breaking away from Facebook can be tough. We’ll often try to give it up, then get back on by accident (it is a habit, after all). Once we try and fail, we feel guilty—then hop back on social media to make ourselves feel better, says Eden. There’s no need to give social media up for good—there are benefits of going on a social media break, but Facebook users also live longer. Eden recommends moving Facebook from your phone’s home screen to get it out of sight, out of mind. To figure out what works best for you, try these tips for having a healthy relationship with social media.