In a new study published on Wednesday in the science Journal PLOS ONE, researchers at Kenyon College, Michigan State, Susquehanna University, and Tufts used a series of auctions to determine the minimum dollar amount it would take to get people to stop using the platform.
As there is no financial cost to join the ubiquitous social media platform, the dollar amount points to the strength of the emotional pull that the service has on its users.
Although in some of the auctions people agreed to give up Facebook for short periods of time for little money -- $1.84 for one hour, $15.73 for three days, or $38.83 for one week -- the dollar amount quickly escalated, and varied greatly, when the 1,143 participants were asked to give up the platform for a full year.
The findings held true independent of age, gender, income, or use of other social media platforms. People who posted status updates frequently and who used Facebook to invite others to events were more likely to ask for more money.
“People are hesitant to give up social media for several reasons. They may start using it as a way to feel connected to a community and feel support and validation from peers, even if in reality it might be taking away from meaningful, interpersonal connections,” said Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Co-Founder of the Stanford Laboratory for Brain Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in an interview with ABC news.
Maria Santiago-Erickson is a new mom from Florida. During the many sleepless nights since the arrival of her little girl, she has found an unlikely source of support: Facebook.
“Everybody helps each other out in raising babies…and they are up at 3 a.m. when I’m up feeding my baby” Santiago-Erickson told ABC news about the large mom support groups she has tapped into through Facebook.
For Santiago-Erickson, using Facebook has also allowed her to stay connected with an older generation of relatives who still live in her native Puerto Rico, and for those relatives to watch her baby grow.
Yet using Facebook sometimes comes with guilt when it distracts from intimate moments with her baby.
“When you’re a breastfeeding mom you’re not supposed to be on the phone -- you’re supposed to make eye contact and do skin to skin,” said Maria. A concept from behavioral psychology may also be at play when it comes to the perceived value of Facebook and other social media sites, according to Chaudhary -- people are more likely to do things that result in unpredictable rewards.
“Every time someone posts something or otherwise engages with social media, the reward, be it likes or comments, is different every time. This unpredictable reward becomes exciting but can also be habit-forming as it often activates the same pathways in the brain that are at work in addiction,” said Chaudhary.
Santiago-Erickson said this is exactly what’s happened to her.
“Now that it is about my baby I am obsessed with how many people like my baby…it’s become a bad habit,” she said.
But giving up the bad habit may come with benefits, including decreased risk of depression and anxiety, better sleep, and more time to spend with family and friends.
“I see a lot of teens who have directly told me that they feel much less anxious or self-conscious when they aren't using social media,” said Chaudhary.
But despite knowing about the benefits of unplugging from social media, Maria Santiago-Erickson is hesitant to give up Facebook entirely.
“Never ever would I have anticipated how much of a resource it would be....maybe if someone offered to pay off all my student loans I'd give it up,” she said.