Sci­ence lets out how smart­phone ad­dic­tion grows

Trig­gers may in­clude per­son­al­ity traits, so­cial anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, pro­fes­sional prob­lems, lone­li­ness or on­line be­hav­iour

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By TARA BAHRAMPOUR The Wash­ing­ton Post

When the Trump-af­fil­i­ated firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica ob­tained data on tens of mil­lions of Face­book users, it used the “Big 5” or “Five Fac­tor Model” per­son­al­ity test to tar­get them with ad­verts de­signed to in­flu­ence their votes in the 2016 elec­tion.

The test scores peo­ple on five traits — open­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness, ex­traver­sion, agree­able­ness and neu­roti­cism — and was used in the elec­tion to pre­dict the way a voter would re­spond to an ad­ver­tise­ment.

But the Big 5 can pre­dict a lot more — in­clud­ing how likely you are to even use Face­book, or any other so­cial me­dia.

Neu­rotic types

That is be­cause the way you score on the test can tell you how likely you are to be­come ad­dicted to your screen. Re­search shows that peo­ple who score high on neu­roti­cism, low on con­sci­en­tious­ness, and low on agree­able­ness are more likely to be­come ad­dicted to so­cial me­dia, video games, in­stant mes­sag­ing, or other on­line stim­uli.

Stud­ies have also found that ex­tro­verts are more likely to be­come ad­dicted to cell phone use than in­tro­verts.

Some of the cor­re­la­tions make sense. Less agree­able peo­ple may be more apt to im­merse them- selves in tech­nol­ogy be­cause it does not re­quire the kind of friendly in­ter­ac­tions that real life does.

Neu­rotic peo­ple have been shown to spend more time on­line be­cause it val­i­dates their de­sire to be­long or be part of a group. Con­sci­en­tious peo­ple are less im­pul­sive and there­fore more able to con­trol and or­gan­ise their time.

But then it gets com­pli­cated. Be­cause ac­cord­ing to a new study out of the State Univer­sity of New York at Bing­ham­ton, spe­cific com­bi­na­tions of those per­son­al­ity traits can mit­i­gate or ex­ag­ger­ate one’s propen­sity to ad­dic­tion.

Ad­dic­tion, said the pa­per’s coau­thor Isaac Vaghefi, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of in­for­ma­tion sys­tems at Bing­ham­ton, in­volves some de­gree of ob­ses­sive/com­pul­sive­ness, ur­gency, and on­line use that has neg­a­tive con­se­quences.

His study sur­veyed 275 un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents and asked about the ef­fects of their on­line be­hav­iour. Ad­dic­tion was noted when the be­hav­iour “im­pairs their per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, when it causes con­stant con­flicts with peers and part­ners, when they say, ‘Ev­ery time I go back home and we are hav­ing din­ner my dad yells at me be­cause I am on my phone.’”

Other in­di­ca­tors were de­pres­sion, so­cial anx­i­ety, and lone­li­ness or pro­fes­sional prob­lems re­sult­ing from on­line be­hav­iour (for ex­am­ple, miss­ing classes, meet­ings or dead­lines).

Mr Vaghefi es­ti­mated that around 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is ad­dicted, but an ad­di­tional 30 to 40 per cent are in dan­ger of it, es­pe­cially as tech­nol­ogy be­comes more so­phis­ti­cated — and ad­dic­tive.

Com­bi­na­tion of traits

“It is hard,” he said. “Tech­nol­ogy is be­com­ing ad­vanced. Face­book and th­ese other com­pa­nies are work­ing to make peo­ple hooked and they are all im­prov­ing their fea­tures.”

Some of the com­bi­na­tions his study found seem log­i­cal: Some­one who is highly con­sci­en­tious and or­gan­ised is nonethe­less at a higher risk for ad­dic­tion if he or she is also very neu­rotic and stressed-out.

But some are coun­ter­in­tu­itive: The study found that even though con­sci­en­tious­ness and agree­able­ness are both neg­a­tively as­so­ci­ated with ad­dic­tion to so­cial net­work­ing sites, a com­bi­na­tion of the two traits ac­tu­ally in­creases one’s ten­dency to be­come ad­dicted.

A pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to the study, could be that agree­able peo­ple “likely value their re­la­tion­ships with their friends” and con­sci­en­tious peo­ple are metic­u­lous about do­ing things like stay­ing in touch — re­sult­ing in the per­fect storm of ad­dic­tion. So, once you know how likely you are to be­come ad­dicted to on­line ac­tiv­i­ties, what do you about it?

Hooked gen­er­a­tion

James Roberts, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Bay­lor Univer­sity who has stud­ied the ef­fects of the Big 5 per­son­al­ity traits on on­line ad­dic­tion, said a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the cor­re­la­tions can help peo­ple — and par­tic­u­larly par­ents — steer away from the dan­gers.

“We need to teach peo­ple to have more self-con­trol. Our brains are be­ing pre­pared for fast and fu­ri­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, and that’s un­der­min­ing our con­sci­en­tious­ness. We talk about our per­son­al­ity im­pact­ing our so­cial me­dia use, but our so­cial me­dia use also im­pacts our per­son­al­ity...we have hooked a gen­er­a­tion or two so that they are pre­pared for con­stant stim­u­la­tion and quick and fast and shal­low in­ter­ac­tions,” Prof Roberts said.

Mr Vaghefi said he hopes the grow­ing body of re­search on the topic will help peo­ple be­come more aware and avoid ad­dic­tion. Not­ing that there are apps that can tally peo­ple’s daily smart phone use, he said, “Most peo­ple do not re­alise they un­lock their phone 200 times a day.”

Most peo­ple don’t re­alise they un­lock their phone 200 times a day. We need to teach peo­ple more self-con­trol.” James Roberts & Isaac Vaghefi, Re­searchers

Pic­ture: Fo­to­search

Adults en­grossed in their smart­phones.

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