It has been argued that similar to addictive behaviors, problematic Social Network sites use (PSNSU) is characterized by sensitized reward processing and cue-reactivity. However, no study to our knowledge has yet investigated cue-reactivity in PSNSU. The present study aims at investigating cue-reactivity to Social Network sites (i.e., Facebook)-related visual cues in individuals identified as problematic vs. non-problematic Facebook users by the Problematic Facebook Use Scale.
The Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) were recorded during the passive viewing of Facebook-related, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral pictures in 27 problematic and 26 non-problematic users. Moreover, craving for Facebook usage was collected using a Likert scale.
Despite problematic users were more likely to endorse higher craving than non-problematic ones, Facebook-related cues elicited larger ERP positivity (400–600 ms) than neutral, and comparable to unpleasant stimuli, in all Facebook users. Only in problematic users we found larger positivity (600–800 ms) to pleasant than unpleasant cues and higher craving to be related with lower later positivity (800–1,000 ms) to pleasant and unpleasant cues.
Regardless of whether Facebook usage is problematic or non-problematic, Facebook-related cues seem to be motivationally relevant stimuli that capture attentional resources in the earlier stages of “motivated” attentional allocation. Moreover, our results support the view that in higher-craving problematic users, reduced abilities to experience emotions would be the result of defective emotion regulation processes that allow craving states to capture more motivational/attentional resources at the expense of other emotional states.