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The Limits of Personal Psychology Tricks to Overcome Facebook Addictiveness

Four full months I made it. 130 days of not posting on Facebook. I didn’t acknowledge my wife’s birthday on Feb. 18 just six days after I decided to stop interacting with the social platform nor have I posted anything about welcoming our first child though Rachel did tag me in her post.


No sharing, no commenting and no scrolling or reading. Just posting on business/campaign pages and responding to messages via Messenger.


This streak ended Wednesday and was broken again Friday. Thursday’s column about Mike Wright’s apology to myself and our Sheriff explained the story that brought me back online. Not the birthday of my significant other or the literal birthday of my first child. Mike. Wright. Houston, we have a problem.


This sparked major self-reflection time to explain how this could have happened. How did this seemingly trivial discussion end a streak that I was proud of when so many other things that would have been much more reasonable to end the streak over could not?


The first term that’s important to know is variable rewards. This is the basis of all social media success but it's by no means a new concept. In the 1930s, famed psychologist B.F. Skinner performed a study on mice where the rodents could receive food by pressing a lever. When the food was rewarded every time, the mice would only press it when hungry.


Skinner introduced a wrinkle into the study and it would become the basis of every social platform, particularly Facebook, today. He introduced variability, meaning he randomized when food was given each time the mice pressed the lever.


This one change had drastic consequences. The mice became obsessed with the level, sometimes eating themselves to death for fear that food might not be served for prolonged periods of time if the level stopped with its generosity.


Facebook is the same way. Take a moment to think about all the promise of rewards the platform gives you before reading the next paragraph.


You could see breaking news. You could see a fun event you might want to go to. They broke up?? Now she’s dating him!? Someone left a heart on my post! I can ruin their day if I leave an angry reaction on their post.


Just opening the app or page is in itself a form of entering this world of promise, which is why I took it off the homepage of my phone and buried it deeply among other apps to keep it out of sight, out of mind.


The most sinister part of this is that negative feedback is just as addictive, if not more addictive, than the positive. Frances Hougen, the Facebook whistleblower from 2021, revealed this in the studies she took from the corporate headquarters. The headlines focused on pre-teen girls but the data revealed that all users exhibited negative feelings from the platforms, yet despite this sentiment were still drawn to them.


This can partially be attributed to reframing the classifications of emotions from good or bad to approach or avoidance. Some emotions make us want to act, called approach emotions, while others make us recoil, called avoidance emotions. These can be categorically both good or bad.

For example, anger and disgust might both be considered bad emotions but anger is an approach emotion and disgust is an avoidance emotion.


Let’s pull this all together. Variable rewards are what drive us to social platforms. Just as a mouse would press a level for food, so too do we open Facebook in the hopes to be fed something new - whether this is a good piece of gossip, a reaction to a post or to read discussion comments.


I had successfully shut this part of my online life out to better improve my offline life. My wife and I celebrated her birthday at dinner without me checking my phone to see how many people liked the announcement.


We have revealed the news of our daughter to friends and family mostly in person, not waiting on their comments and judging their emoji choice.


But the one thing I couldn’t overcome was the approach quality of the anger emotion. When I read the blog posts of this week, I was compelled to change my behavior to fix the perceived injustice.


In the end, it wasn’t about Mike Wright at all. It was about recognizing the reasons for our human nature flaws and trying our best to overcome them, even when we fall short.


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