Researchers have matched certain personality traits that make us more to spend a lot of time on social media, suggesting that some of us are more susceptible to the lure of Facebook and Twitter than others.
Three personality traits in particular were identified: neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Different combinations of these three traits, the study says, can increase or decrease the risk of becoming addicted to social networking.
The two researchers behind the work want to see a more nuanced approach to tackling the issue of spending too much time on social media – the thinking is that if we’re to better deal with the negative effects that online time can have, we need to better understand what causes it.
“There has been plenty of research on how the interaction of certain personality traits affects addiction to things like alcohol and drugs,” says one of the researchers, Isaac Vaghefi from Binghamton University in New York.
“We wanted to apply a similar framework to social networking addiction.”
To do this, Vaghefi and Qahri-Saremi of DePaul University in Illinois asked 275 students to work through the five-factor personality model, a recognised framework for assessing personality traits.
As well as neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, which we’ve already mentioned, the model evaluates your openness and extraversion too.
What the study found was that openness and extraversion didn’t have much of a correlation with social network addiction, but the other three did.
On its own, neuroticism – how much we experience negative emotions like stress and anxiety – increased the likelihood of spending too much time with social media feeds.
On the other hand, when conscientiousness turned up as a trait – defined as being self-controlled and driven to achieve certain goals – social media addiction was found to be less likely.
But the researchers wanted to test the relationship of these traits against each other as well. They found that neuroticism seemed to moderate conscientiousness in regards to social network addiction, so if someone scored highly for both, feelings of stress and anxiety could override perceived self-control.
As for agreeableness – being friendly and empathetic – this didn’t have a link to the chances of social media addiction on its own. When combined with conscientiousness though, that changed.
People who score highly for both agreeableness and conscientiousness are more likely to be glued to their Facebook or Twitter feeds, the study found – perhaps because these people value their friendships and want to use social media to maintain them.
At the same time, social media addiction is also more likely among those whose agreeableness and conscientiousness scores are low.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a relatively small sample size of less than 300, so broad generalisations about the rest of the population don’t necessarily apply. The researchers also didn’t dig too deeply into the possible reasons why these personality traits in particular are the ones that match up with social media addiction.
However, the study is definitely of use in showing how a variety of different factors in our characters can play into problems with social media use.
And while a few extra minutes here and there on Facebook or Twitter might not seem like a big deal, researchers are increasingly interested in the potential effects that spending time on social media might have on us – good and bad.
Bear in mind that Facebook didn’t even exist 15 years ago, and now there are major questions over how social media is messing with our brains, affecting our self-esteem, impairing our judgement, and hurting our health.
It’ll take more years of research before we know just how much impact social media is having on our lives, whether individually we use it occasionally or far too much.
“It’s a complex and complicated topic,” says Vaghefi. “You can’t have a simplistic approach.”
The research has been presented at the 51st Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science and is available to view online.