Facebook, Email More Irresistible Than Sex

Reported by Dr. Julielynn Wong:

You may want to ask your date to turn off his or her phone. A new study suggests Facebook and email trump sex in terms of sheer irresistibility.

The German study used smartphone-based surveys to probe the daily desires of 205 men and women, most of whom were college age. For one week the phones, provided by the researchers, buzzed seven times daily, alerting study subjects to take a quick survey on the type, strength and timing of their desires, as well as their ability to resist them.

While the desire for sex was stronger, the study subjects were more likely to cave into the desire to use media, including email and social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, according to the study.

"Media desires, such as social networking, checking emails, surfing the Web or watching television might be hard to resist in light of the constant availability, huge appeal, and apparent low costs of these activities," said study author Wilhelm Hofmann, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The subjects were paid $28 at the start of the study and were eligible for extra incentives if they filled out more than 80 percent of the surveys. It's no small wonder that more than 10,000 surveys were completed.

The urge to check social media was so strong that subjects gave in up to 42 percent of the time, according to the study published in the journal Psychological Science. One explanation is that it's much more convenient to check email or Facebook than it is to have sex.

"The sex drive is much stronger but it's also much more situational," said Karen North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study. "We're training ourselves to check our messages every couple minutes."

"People are constantly looking down to check their phones," North added. "They can't stop."

One drawback of this study is that it failed to address whether the subjects had sexual partners. So while some subjects might have been single, all of them had smartphones, North said. It's also unclear whether the findings can be generalized to the general population.

While social media can help people stay connected, Hofmann said overuse can be damaging.

"Media desires distract us from getting work done," he said. "People underestimate how much time they consume and the distractions they produce and that can be harmful."

The study surprised media expert Bob Larose, a professor in the department of telecommunications, information studies, and media at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.

"It's surprising that self-regulation fails so much more often for media use than for sex, alcohol or food," said Larose, who was not involved with the study. "That speaks to the power of the instantly available, 24/7 media environment to disrupt our lives… Our failure to control media use can deplete our ability to control other aspects of our lives."

For those who fear social media is taking over their personal or professional lives, there is hope. North offers some tips.

"If it is interfering with social/business relationships, work, or school performance, then people should try to scale back and control or limit the behavior," she said, describing how self-imposed "rules," like no social media at the dinner table, can help curb the constant urge to check Facebook.

"People can use a self monitoring technique, such as charting when they use social media as a means of reducing it," North added. "Some people find it helpful to set rewards for staying within use standards that they set for themselves."