Why your brain can't really tell the difference between Facebook and cocaine addiction.

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First of all, you just want to clarify that you are not addicted to Facebook.

No, no, no. You just like to casually nip on before you tackle your to-do list. It’s actually a completely legitimate mental warm-up to doing work, because experts always say that it’s good to warm up.

Social media is in danger of ruining your holiday. Don’t let it.

And, yes, you think about checking Facebook at the cinema – but that’s because films are reaaally long these days. And if you’re going for a wee, you may as well check Facebook while you’re at it and, um, multitask.

OK, OK, OK. We’re all big fat Facebook liars. As much we pretend that our lives are in no way governed by the urge to press that little blue and white logo, in truth, we love that little logo.

A new study has found that the impulsive brain patterns of Facebook users are the same as cocaine addicts. But unlike cocaine use, where you’re very aware of the negative consequences beyond the high, we don’t fear any of the repercussions of spending two hours looking at Facebook – so we keep at it.

We love its constant, magician’s-hat-style stream of gossip, ground-breaking videos (four words: seal on a surfboard) and announcements that we didn’t even know that we needed to know. A school friend you haven’t seen for 17 years is at the airport? Hooray!

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In short, what porn does for our genitals, Facebook does for our brain. And there’s a reason why your brain does not let up trying to get its next fix.

Referring to the study’s Facebook-obsessed participants, co-author and psychologist Ofir Turel at California State University told LiveScience, “They have the ability to control their behaviour, but they don’t have the motivation to control this behaviour because they don’t see the consequences to be that severe.”


Which explains why we’re still happy to stalk our ex despite the possibility that we could accidentally ‘Like’ a picture of his new girlfriend. The buzz beats the possible risk.

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A further part of Turel’s research looked at how Facebook ‘addicts’ reacted to Facebook-related images compared to traffic signs. He found that the Facebook cues triggered a much stronger reaction than the road signs, adding – rather terrifyingly – that if you’re in the car with a Facebook fan, they’re “going to respond faster to beeps from their phone than to street signs.”

The reason we’re addicted is because of a very clever marketing formula – plus some kittens.

Those kittens - they'll get you every time.

According to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How To Build Habit Forming Products, Facebook uses this irresistible quadruple-whammy: A trigger (ie boredom), an easy action (clicking that app), an unpredictable reward (a mix of juicy news updates + boring stuff) and investment (such a posting pictures or ‘Liking’ something).

To break the addiction, you have to create resistance to any one (or more) of those four hooks. In the past we would have said willpower, but, realistically, it’s now all in the hands of our phone’s battery life.

On a scale of 1 to 'What is life, again?', how addicted are you to Facebook?

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