The New Zealand Herald

It’s just me, myself and iPhone . . .

Personalit­y study looks at how your traits influence likelihood of screen addiction

- Tara Bahrampour — Washington Post

When the Trumpaffil­iated 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 ads 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.

That’s 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 cellphone use than introverts.

Some of the correlatio­ns make sense. Less agreeable people may be more apt to immerse themselves 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 co-author 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’re having dinner my dad yells at me because I’m 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). 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. “It’s hard,” he said. “Technology’s becoming advanced. Facebook and these other companies are working to make people hooked and they’re 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 Studies have found extroverts are more likely to become addicted to cellphone use than introverts.

Vsites, 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?

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,” he said. “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’ve hooked a generation or two so that they’re prepared for constant stimulatio­n and quick, [shallow] interactio­ns.”

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 smartphone use, he said, “Most people don’t realise they unlock their phone 200 times a day.”

Most people don’t realise they unlock their phone 200 times a day. Isaac Vaghefi, Binghamton University

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