A new study found a link between excessive use of social media and impaired decision making — a trait commonly attributed to people who have gambling and drug addiction.

Researchers from Michigan State University recruited 71 participants and assessed their social media habits using the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS), the first psychological scale to measure Facebook addiction developed by researchers from Norway. All participants also took the Iowa Gambling Task to assess their decision making.

The researchers claim that this is the first study to probe the link between excessive social media use and impaired or risky decision making. The findings were published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

Excessive Social Media Use Impairs Judgment

About one-third of all humans around the world use social media sites. Facebook, the biggest of them all, reported that it has an average of 1.49 billion daily active users across all platforms as of September 2018. In June last year, Instagram, a site also owned by Facebook, hit 1 billion monthly users.

So much time is spent logged into social media and, according to researchers, many are displaying maladaptive and excessive use of these apps and sites.

"With so many people around the world using social media, it's critical for us to understand its use," stated Dar Meshi, the lead author of the study. "I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there's also a dark side when people can't pull themselves away. We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction."

During their study, Meshi and his colleague found that participants who admitted to excessive use of social media sites performed worse in the Iowa Gambling Task. The exercise, which is used by psychologists, involves four decks of cards from which the participants have to choose.

Those who did better in the exercise, the researchers found, spend less time logged into Facebook, Instagram, or any other popular social media sites.

Excessive Social Media Use As An Addiction

The researchers noted that they did not probe why the participants who admitted to excessive social media use displayed poor decision-making during the test, but there is a correlation that is worth looking into. Impaired judgment is often a trait associated with people who have substance use disorder and, sometimes, it leads to negative consequences.

The researchers hope that the study can motivate mental health experts to look at excessive social media use as a serious problem, especially to young people.

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