Effect of Abstinence from Social Media on Time Perception: Differences between Low- and At-Risk for Social Media "Addiction" Groups

Psychiatr Q. 2019 Mar;90(1):217-227. doi: 10.1007/s11126-018-9614-3.


Time distortion is a hallmark feature of addictive behaviors including excessive technology use. It has clinically significant implications for diagnosis and treatment. Additional information on such distortions after prolonged abstinence from technology use is needed. We seek to examine differences in the effects of several days of abstinence on time-distortion in two groups: social media users who are at-risk and those who are at low risk for social media "addiction." To examine this, we employed a randomized, two group, pre (t1) - post (t2) design. Both groups completed survey tasks that cued social media use at t1 and at t2. Between t1 and t2, the treatment group (n = 294) abstained from social media use for up to one week (less if they "broke" and decided to resume use), and the control group (n = 121) did not. Results indicated that low-risk individuals in both the treatment and control groups presented downward time bias at t1; at-risk individuals presented non-significant upward bias. After abstinence, both low- and at- risk individuals in the treatment group presented upward time distortion. This effect did not take place in the control group; low-risk users still presented significant downward bias at t2. The post-abstinence increase in time distortion was significantly more pronounced in at-risk users. These differences between pre- and post-abstinence time distortion patterns in normal and at-risk-for-"addiction" social media users can be used for adjusting and interpreting self-reports related to addictive uses of technologies.

Keywords: Abstinence; Addictive use of social media; Internet addiction; Time distortion; Time perception.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior, Addictive / complications
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk
  • Social Media*
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult