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Does the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) Lead to Internet and Smartphone Addiction?

Scientists have documented a psychological condition dubbed the “fear of missing out,” or FoMO, which generates a certain amount of anxiety. FoMO is considered a good thing when it motivates people to engage socially. For example, learning to read and learning mathematics are often motivated by a person’s desire to not be left out.

Like any fear, however, FoMO can be taken way past the healthy point until it becomes a crippling anxiety that leads to sleep disorders, substance abuse, and depression. In a meta-analysis of scientific papers on FoMO and internet use, researchers documented ample studies making the following case:

FoMO, and its related negative affectivity, underlies psychopathology and addictive behaviors, which may predispose to excessive internet use, predominantly triggered via FoMO.

The authors note that FoMO takes a variety of flavors, including what they term internet-FoMO, smartphone-FoMO, and social media-FoMO. They note that internet use disorder has not yet been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), though internet addiction has been well-documented.

One thing these researchers found was that the stronger the FoMO, the greater the internet or device use. There is a bidirectionality involved: more internet use causes more FoMO and more FoMO causes more internet or device use. Sorting out which one was driving the addiction was not possible. Some of their findings are fascinating:

  • There’s not a significant difference between the levels of FoMO and age. Teens versus adults showed the same percentage of smartphone users suffering the same degree of FoMO.
  • Participation in social media leads to a “fear of missing out online.”
  • FoMO may actually increase with age.
  • Amusingly, Facebook participation did not generate nearly as much FoMO as Instagram use. 

The researchers don’t attempt to explain the disparity, although they speculate that there is a tipping point with Instagram. “Once this becomes excessive use, FoMO will steadily motivate internet use — specifically Instagram use.”

Another study, called The Social Media Party, lays out a more alarming analysis. “Three-quarters of young adults have self-diagnosed as having experienced a fear of missing out on enjoyable activities experienced by others, and, importantly, shared on social media (Przybylski et al., 2013).” The authors link excessive social media use to a variety of negative outcomes, including:

  • increased stress levels
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • lower levels of self-esteem
  • reduced relationship quality
  • lower sleep quality
  • suicidal ideation
  • suicide events

This meta-analysis appears to show that social media participation stimulates the desire for social engagement while reducing the opportunities for it. Excessive social media use, rather than increasing social engagement destroys it to the point where “50% of Americans say they have no confidant,” a statistic that is presented without any context of whether it is increasing or declining.

Ultimately, both surveys come to a similar conclusion: A little FoMO is a good thing but excessive FoMO is dangerous and leads to negative consequences. Beyond that, we await more research.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published February 15, 2024.


“Fear of missing out (FoMO) and internet use: A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis,” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, December 2021.

“The Social Media Party: Fear of Missing Out (FoMO), Social Media Intensity, Connection, and Well-Being,” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, July 2019.

Image Copyright: liudmilachernetska.


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