Social Media

Social Media Addiction Predicts Social Media Infidelity in Dating Partners: Could Age Explain This Connection?

Habitual social media interactions could develop into a compulsive behavioral pattern that could interfere with relationship functioning.

Empirical research has consistently found a negative relationship between social media addiction and age. My research has also confirmed that, in a sample of adult partners (18 and above) who self-reported to be in a committed relationship, younger partners indicated more social media addiction and a greater number of social media accounts, than older partners (Abbasi, 2019a). Moreover, partners who reported greater social media addiction also reported low commitment to their primary relationship. Having a greater number of social media accounts means that younger partners may be spending greater time on the Internet, which could make them more susceptible to social media addiction.

Individuals addicted to social media experience physiological arousal and activation of appetitive pathways that resemble other behavioral addictions (Wise et al., 2010). Response from social media contacts such as likes, tags, shares, and comments have been linked with the release of dopamine in the brain (Haynes, 2018). Social media addiction also shares many of the characteristic symptoms of substance-related addiction such as cognitive preoccupation with the activity, mood changes, tolerance, interpersonal conflict, withdrawal, and relapse. 

 Interestingly, in another study that was comprised of an equal number of adult dating and committed/married partners, I found that social media addiction and social media infidelity were positively connected (Abbasi, 2019b). Moreover, this connection was stronger for younger partners and weakened as partners’ age increased. In this study, dating partners also reported more social media addiction and social media infidelity (sexting, hot chatting, emotional disclosure) than committed/married partners. Generally, younger partners are more likely to be in an uncommitted causally dating relationship; therefore, they may face fewer social and financial barriers to quitting their relationship, than committed partners. 

Rusbult’s investment model holds that commitment is strengthened in the absence of alternatives to the primary romantic relationship, experiencing relationship satisfaction, and having mutual investments. Committed partners have more to lose in terms of mutual investments (finances, social status, children) if their relationship dissolves, which could make them more risk-averse than dating partners. Researchers have also reported that young people are more prone to engaging in risky behaviors online than in an offline situation. Therefore, young partners may be facing double jeopardy and should be twice as cautious online as older partners.

Abbasi, I. S. (2019a). The link between romantic disengagement and Facebook addiction: Where does relationship commitment fit in? The American Journal of Family Therapy46 (4), 375-389. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926187.2018.1540283 

Abbasi, I. S. (2019b). Social media addiction in romantic relationships: Does user’s age influence vulnerability to social media infidelity? Personality and Individual Differences139, 277-280. 10.1016/j.paid.2018.10.038 

Gray, L. (2016). Exploring how and why young people use social networking sites. Doctorate in Applied Educational Psychology. Newcastle University (Newcastle University e-theses).

Rusbult, C. E., Agnew, C., & Ximena, A. (2011). The investment model of commitment processes. Department of Psychological Sciences Faculty Publications. Paper 26.  http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/psychpubs/26

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Dr. Abbasi founded mindfulrelation.com as a ‘go-to-website’ where couples can learn ways to avoid harmful online behaviors and improve the quality of their relationship. In her research, Dr. Abbasi examined how social media use is linked with romantic relationship problems, mental health, personality, and mood.
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