Do Problematic Facebook Users Make More Impulsive Decisions?

By Beth Leipholtz 11/26/18

A small-scale study examined the impulsivity of problematic Facebook users.

a problematic Facebook user pulling up the app on her iPad.

Impulsive decision-making may be added to the list of negative effects of too much Facebook use, according to new research.

The study, published in Addiction Research and Theory, was done at a Midwestern university and consisted of surveying 75 students. In doing so, researchers discovered that students who scored higher on the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale had a higher probability of exhibiting “delay discounting.”

According to PsyPost, delay discounting is when a person is more inclined to take a smaller reward that they can have immediately, rather than waiting for a larger reward. For the study specifically, students were asked whether they wanted $70 immediately or $200 in two weeks. 

According to the research, many of the students who said they would choose the $70 were also the students who reported utilizing Facebook to forget about personal issues, who tried to decrease Facebook use without success and used the social media platform so much that it impacted their jobs and studies in a negative way. 

“Steep delay discounting, or a preference for smaller immediate rewards instead of investing in a larger payout in the future, has been an observed behavior across addictions,” researchers wrote. “This finding thus strengthens the proposition that [Facebook addiction] may share neurocognitive processes similar to other addictions.”

Licensed psychologist Tyler Fortman told Guy Counseling that for those in the field such as himself, the results of this study were expected. “I’m not surprised to see the results of this study. We’ve known for some time now that frequent social media usage has a negative impact on delayed gratification,” he said. 

In their conclusion, the researchers acknowledge that in the future, such a study would benefit from having more participants from more diverse backgrounds. 

“More advanced and better powered research on this topic is warranted,” researchers wrote. “Although Facebook can be innocuous for many users, and even provides apparent benefit to users by maintaining social connections, for some persons, Facebook use may be problematic.”

This research supports a prior study’s findings that measured impulsivity with a “go/no-go” task and found that Facebook addiction aligned with impulsive decision making.

“The findings indicated that at least at the examined levels of addiction-like symptoms, technology-related ‘addictions’ share some neural features with substance and gambling addictions, but more importantly they also differ from such addictions in their brain etiology and possibly pathogenesis, as related to abnormal functioning of the inhibitory-control brain system,” that study’s researchers wrote. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.