Associations between symptoms of problematic smartphone, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram use: An item-level exploratory graph analysis perspective

J Behav Addict. 2020 Aug 13;9(3):686-697. doi: 10.1556/2006.2020.00036. Print 2020 Oct 12.


Background and aims: Studies have demonstrated associations between both problematic smartphone and social networks use with everyday life adversities. However, examination of associations between problematic smartphone use (PSU) and problematic use of specific social networking platforms, especially on item-level data, has received relatively little attention. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to explore how items of problematic smartphone, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram use are associated.

Methods: 949 German-speaking adults participated in a web survey study. The participants were queried about their socio-demographics as well as levels of problematic smartphone, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram use. In addition to bivariate correlation analysis, exploratory graph analysis (EGA), a type of network analysis, was conducted.

Results: The results showed that while problematic Facebook and Instagram use seem to be distinct phenomena, problematic smartphone and WhatsApp use were heavily intertwined. Furthermore, the only cross-platform symptom observed was the extent of reported pain in wrists and neck due to digital technology use. The EGA network models showed very good stability in bootstrap analyses.

Discussion and conclusions: In general, the results of this study suggest that while Instagram and Facebook use may potentially constitute distinct problematic behaviors, problematic smartphone/WhatsApp use scales may be measuring highly similar or even the same construct.

Keywords: Facebook; Instagram; WhatsApp; problematic smartphone use; smartphone addiction; smartphone use disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Internet Addiction Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Online Social Networking*
  • Smartphone*
  • Social Media*
  • Young Adult