Studies show Facebook,Twitter more addictive than anything but sleep and sex, but do less good

Compulsion for social networking fed by 'low cost' of updates that collectively steal huge swathes of time

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Researchers are still split on whether it's possible to become addicted to an activity like using the Internet rather than a chemical like nicotine, alcohol or heroin.

A new study shows it is very possible to develop compulsions that look a lot like Internet addiction and that, under the right conditions, the combination of Facebook and Internet-connected smartphones are like smoking crack in a cigarette and drinking Irish Coffee while standing in line at the methadone clinic.

Another showed that, while sharing personal information with friends in social environments is usually beneficial, sharing online with Facebook friends often has exactly the opposite effect.

In the first study, 205 volunteers were told they'd be asked to provide real-time information on any type of appetite or desire, the strength of the desire and their ability to resist it.

Then they were sent out into "the wild" (their normal lives) with a BlackBerry researchers used to ping them seven times per day. Volunteers were asked to text back with information on what desires they'd felt during the past 30 minutes, how strong or appropriate the desire was and whether it conflicted with other desires (go outside for a smoke vs. making a meeting on time, for example).

Hang on, this'll just take a second!

The result was that, except for sleep and sex, the urge to log into social networking sites was stronger than almost any other urge – including the urge for a cigarette, coffee, food or alcohol.

There are so many activities and information sources competing for our attention that no adult can function without being able to resist some of them, according to the study's lead author, Wilhelm Hofmann, a behavioral psychologist at Chicago University's Booth Business School, who specializes in impulse control, consumer behavior and moral decision-making.

Photo Credit: 

Reuters/Jinan Yu

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