The Psychology of Your Scrolling Addiction

Monday, April 4th, 2022

To better understand why people fall into (metaphorical) rabbit holes, researchers conducted a series of studies with a total of 6,445 U.S.-based students and working adults:

Through this research, we identified three factors that influence whether people choose to continue viewing photos and videos rather than switch to another activity: the amount of media the person has already viewed, the similarity of the media they’ve viewed, and the manner in which they viewed the media.

In the first part of our research, we were interested in exploring whether the pull of the rabbit hole would grow stronger or weaker once people had already viewed several videos. We had participants view either five different music videos or just one music video, and then we asked them if they’d rather watch another video or complete a work-related task. In theory, one might expect that people would get tired of watching music videos after watching five in a row, reducing their desire to watch more of them. But in fact, we found that the opposite was true: Watching five videos made people 10% more likely to choose to watch an additional music video than if they only watched one video.

Next, we examined the impact of framing the videos people watched as similar to one another. We showed participants the same two videos, but for half of the participants, we explicitly labelled the videos with the same category label (“educational videos”), while for the other half of the participants, we didn’t include a category label. We found that simply framing the videos as more similar via the category label made people 21% more likely to choose to watch another related video.

Finally, we looked at how people acted after watching several videos consecutively, versus when they watched the same number of videos with some interruptions. We had one group of participants complete two work tasks and then watch two similar videos, while the other group completed the same four tasks, but alternated between them (i.e., work, video, work, video). Despite having done exactly the same activities, the order made a big difference: The participants whose video consumption was uninterrupted were 22% more likely to choose to watch another video than those who alternated between work tasks and videos.

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