Spending Time Online Lowers Self-Control and Is Linked to Higher Debt


Researchers have found that browsing Facebook lowers self-control, particularly among individuals whose Facebook connections consist mainly of close friends.

People tend to have less self-control when dealing with online problems and issues, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, message boards, or websites. They tend to say things that would never be said face to face. Anonymity seems to be a powerful force, but many websites no longer allow this since sites like Facebook usually connect comments directly with a profile.

According to researchers at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, browsing Facebook lowers self-control. The effect is most pronounced with people whose Facebook networks are made up of close friends.

Most people present a positively-enhanced version of themselves on Facebook, and the encouragement, in the forms of likes or comments, boosts self-esteem. This can inflate the sense of self and lead people to exhibit poor self-control.

Feeling good leads to a sense of entitlement, states Keith Wilcox, a marketing researcher at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. In order to protect that enhanced view, people will lash out strongly at others who don’t share their opinions. These types of behavior are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol.

The scientists conducted a series of five studies. In one, 541 Facebook users were asked how much time they spend on the site and how many close friends they had in their network. They were also asked about their offline lives, including questions about debt and credit-card usage, weight, and eating habits and how much time they spent socializing with real people per week.

People who spent more time online and who had a higher percentage of close ties in their network were more likely to engage in binge eating and had a greater body mass index. They were also more likely to have credit card debt and a lower credit score. In another study, they found that people who browsed Facebook for five minutes and had strong network ties were more likely to choose a chocolate-chip cookie than a granola bar as a snack.

The third study involved giving the participants sets of anagrams that were impossible to solve, as well as timed IQ tests. They measured how long it took the participants to give up. They found that people who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to give up on difficult tasks.

People are less inhibited online because they don’t see the reaction of the people they are addressing, states Sherry Turkle, psychologist at MIT. It’s harder to focus on what they have in common with others and it’s easier to dehumanize each other.

Many people tend to forget that they are speaking to an audience when posting comments, especially when using smartphones.

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