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The Dark Side of Social Media

How a Tug-of-War in Our Brains Leads to Problematic Use
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While individuals often use social media to expand their circle of friends or share common experiences and news, there is a potential dark side to the equation, according to two researchers.

Using systems such as Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and others, especially in certain situations, can cause real problems. For college students, it can limit their ability to study well and diminish their academic performance.

The recent study conducted by Ofir Turel, professor of information systems and decision sciences at Cal State Fullerton, and Hamed Qahri-Saremi, assistant professor of information systems at DePaul University, found links that such usage — including while in class, driving or talking face to face with others, or instead of studying or working — stems from an imbalance between two systems in the brain.

The scholars explored perceived reactions in both the impulsive or reflexive system (what makes us duck when a ball is thrown at us) and the reflective, reasoning system (which controls impulses or helps in thinking through actions before taking them) based on a dual-system theory.

“Problematic uses of social media simply stem from a strong preoccupation with social media use (i.e, active impulsive system) and are inhibited through cognitive and behavioral control efforts (active reflective system),” explained Turel.

“When the impulsions are strong and inhibition abilities are weak, i.e., there is an imbalance between the systems, people engage more in problematic social media use behaviors,” added Turel, who has conducted earlier studies into Facebook addiction, adolescent obesity and video gaming , and adults with ADHD, social media and driving.

In this study, Turel and Qahri-Saremi used a questionnaire to survey 341 undergraduate college students. They collected and analyzed problematic Facebook use data during one semester, then followed each student in the next year to track academic performance using GPAs over both semesters and cumulatively.

“What we found was surprising: increases in problematic use of Facebook were associated with a substantial reduction in grade point averages, even a year after the initial survey,” Turel said.

“The clear and strong effect of problematic social media use on academic performance was astounding,” he added. “A slight increase in problematic social media use translates into significant grade loss, and this declined performance is persistent — it remained one year after our initial study.

“This study contributes to research on the dark side of information systems (IS) use by conceptualizing problematic use and explaining its drivers and consequences,” noted Turel. “It also demonstrates that the dual-system theory is an appropriate theoretical perspective for explaining problematic IS use.”

Problematic Use of Social Media Networking Sites: Antecedents and Consequence From a Dual-System Theory Perspective,” was published in Vol. 33, Issue 4 of the Journal of Management Information Systems.