Mental Health, Tech, Wellness / Self-Care

It’s not Social Media Addiction, it’s actually Dissociation Addiction

You like the endless scrolling don’t you?

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Aug 27, 2022

It seems very easy to throw around the term “social media addiction” these days, and a lot of people experience a lot of shame around their use of social media. But it has become an inevitable part of our lives, and it would behoove us to dig a little deeper into this so-called “social media addiction” phenomenon.


According to a new study conducted by the University of Washington, people enter a dissociative state when using social media. The study explains:

“Sometimes when we are reading a good book, it’s like we are transported into another world and we stop paying attention to what’s around us. Researchers at the University of Washington wondered if people enter a similar state of dissociation when surfing social media, and if that explains why users might feel out of control after spending so much time on their favorite app.”


If you’ve been worried about being addicted to social media, you may just be dissociating online. It actually isn’t social media or its content that hooks us, but the brainless state that it puts us in. It provides a reprieve from real life, and the endless scrolling provides a stream of dopamine while momentarily taking us out of reality. That means that it might be more accurate for us to reframe the idea of social media addiction and look at it from this lens.


The research team built an app called Chirp, that they connected to the Twitter accounts of the participants of the study. The likes and tweets of users appear on the social media platform, but researchers would be able to control people’s experiences through Chirp by way of adding new features or pop-up surveys.


Senior author Alexis Hiniker, a professor in the UW Information School posed the following question: “What happens if we rebuild a social media platform so that it continues to offer what people like about it, but it is designed with an explicit goal of keeping the user in control of their time and attention? […] How does a user’s experience with this redesigned app compare to their experience with the status quo in digital well-being design, that is, adding an outside lockout mechanism or timer to police their usage?”


Social media apps like Twitter and Instagram are designed to keep users on the app as long as possible. The apps, therefore, become “addictive,” not because they trigger mood boosting responses, but instead, they hook us by letting us scroll mindlessly without having to think about the content we’re consuming. Therefore, the real obstacle here is the dissociative aspect of social media, which in and of itself becomes addictive.


This kind of dissociative behavior is totally normal and can happen during any other activity, such as watching TV or reading a book. This only becomes a problem when it interferes with other areas of life, which is exactly why researchers are looking at the act of dissociative scrolling.


This means that it might not be the apps that we’re really addicted to, but rather the act of dissociating when we’re on social media. And that gives us a lot to think about.


With that theory in mind, is social media causing us amnesia?


Photo via Getty Images