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      Social media ‘addiction’: The absence of an attentional bias to social media stimuli


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          Background and aims

          Social media use has become a ubiquitous part of society, with 3.8 billion users worldwide. While research has shown that there are positive aspects to social media engagement (e.g. feelings of social connectedness and wellbeing), much of the focus has been on the negative mental health outcomes which are associated with excessive use (e.g. higher levels of depression/anxiety). While the evidence to support such negative associations is mixed, there is a growing debate within the literature as to whether excessive levels of social media use should become a clinically defined addictive behaviour.


          Here we assess whether one hallmark of addiction, the priority processing of addiction related stimuli known as an ‘attentional bias’, is evident in a group of social media users ( N = 100). Using mock iPhone displays, we test whether social media stimuli preferentially capture users' attention and whether the level of bias can be predicted by platform use (self-report, objective smartphone usage data), and whether it is associated with scores on established measures of social media engagement (SMES) and social media ‘addiction’ severity scales (BSNAS, SMAQ).


          Our findings do not provide support for a social media specific attentional bias. While there was a large range of individual differences in our measures of use, engagement, and ‘addictive’ severity, these were not predictive of, or associated with, individual differences in the magnitude of attentional capture by social media stimuli.


          More research is required before social media use can be definitively placed within an addiction framework.

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          Most cited references62

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          Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

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            The neural basis of drug craving: an incentive-sensitization theory of addiction.

            This paper presents a biopsychological theory of drug addiction, the 'Incentive-Sensitization Theory'. The theory addresses three fundamental questions. The first is: why do addicts crave drugs? That is, what is the psychological and neurobiological basis of drug craving? The second is: why does drug craving persist even after long periods of abstinence? The third is whether 'wanting' drugs (drug craving) is attributable to 'liking' drugs (to the subjective pleasurable effects of drugs)? The theory posits the following. (1) Addictive drugs share the ability to enhance mesotelencephalic dopamine neurotransmission. (2) One psychological function of this neural system is to attribute 'incentive salience' to the perception and mental representation of events associated with activation of the system. Incentive salience is a psychological process that transforms the perception of stimuli, imbuing them with salience, making them attractive, 'wanted', incentive stimuli. (3) In some individuals the repeated use of addictive drugs produces incremental neuroadaptations in this neural system, rendering it increasingly and perhaps permanently, hypersensitive ('sensitized') to drugs and drug-associated stimuli. The sensitization of dopamine systems is gated by associative learning, which causes excessive incentive salience to be attributed to the act of drug taking and to stimuli associated with drug taking. It is specifically the sensitization of incentive salience, therefore, that transforms ordinary 'wanting' into excessive drug craving. (4) It is further proposed that sensitization of the neural systems responsible for incentive salience ('for wanting') can occur independently of changes in neural systems that mediate the subjective pleasurable effects of drugs (drug 'liking') and of neural systems that mediate withdrawal. Thus, sensitization of incentive salience can produce addictive behavior (compulsive drug seeking and drug taking) even if the expectation of drug pleasure or the aversive properties of withdrawal are diminished and even in the face of strong disincentives, including the loss of reputation, job, home and family. We review evidence for this view of addiction and discuss its implications for understanding the psychology and neurobiology of addiction.
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              Review. The incentive sensitization theory of addiction: some current issues.

              We present a brief overview of the incentive sensitization theory of addiction. This posits that addiction is caused primarily by drug-induced sensitization in the brain mesocorticolimbic systems that attribute incentive salience to reward-associated stimuli. If rendered hypersensitive, these systems cause pathological incentive motivation ('wanting') for drugs. We address some current questions including: what is the role of learning in incentive sensitization and addiction? Does incentive sensitization occur in human addicts? Is the development of addiction-like behaviour in animals associated with sensitization? What is the best way to model addiction symptoms using animal models? And, finally, what are the roles of affective pleasure or withdrawal in addiction?

                Author and article information

                J Behav Addict
                J Behav Addict
                Journal of Behavioral Addictions
                Akadémiai Kiadó (Budapest )
                13 April 2021
                July 2021
                July 2021
                : 10
                : 2
                : 302-313
                [1 ] School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde , Glasgow , UK
                [2 ] Department of Psychology, Glasgow Caledonian University , Glasgow , UK
                [3 ] Graduate School of Education, University of Western Australia , Perth , Australia
                Author notes
                [* ] Corresponding author. E-mail: david.j.robertson@ 123456strath.ac.uk
                © 2021 The Author(s)

                Open Access. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ ), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium for non-commercial purposes, provided the original author and source are credited, a link to the CC License is provided, and changes – if any – are indicated.

                Page count
                Figures: 5, Tables: 1, Equations: 0, References: 61, Pages: 12

                addictive behaviour,social media use,attention,attentional bias,individual differences


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