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Facebook Isn't Addictive -- It Just Makes People Happy

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A lot has been written about "Facebook addiction." Indeed some press coverage of a recent study from the University of Chicago suggests that "Facebook and Twitter are more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol." But a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking puts a positive spin on the issue. Could it be that, just like eating chocolate, Facebook and Twitter are simply fun and pleasurable?

The word "addictive" doesn't appear once in the report, "Why Is Facebook So Successful? Psychophysiological Measures Describe a Core Flow State While Using Facebook," (PDF) but it does point out that " the successful spread of SNSs (social networking services) might be associated with a specific positive affective state experienced by users when they use their SNSs account."

The researchers analyzed users' skin conductance, blood volume pulse, electroencephalogram (brain waves), respiratory activity and pupil dilation in 30 healthy subjects "during a 3-minute exposure to a slide show of natural panoramas (relaxation condition)," and "the subject's personal Facebook account" and found that Facebook use correlated with responses from people who are in a positive emotional state. The technical term, surprisingly, is "flow," which according to the researchers occurs when "people in free-time activities that did not seem to follow the utility-centered motivational theories of the time" experienced "intense engagement and enjoyment."

So, is this a bad thing? I suppose some people could interpret anything positive that people return to often as addictive, but if "intense engagement and emotional enjoyment" is a bad thing than we have to worry more than just Facebook, Twitter and chocolate. We would also have to include great works of art, beautiful music, great toys, award-winning movies, attractive people and anything else that brings us pleasure.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook and other Internet companies.

This article also appears on Forbes.com

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