FEAR OF MISSING OUT

Author, Professor and Psychologist, Dr. Anita Sanz,explains the psychology of  FOMO.

The fear of missing out is an old—actually an ancient—fear, being triggered by the newest form of communication: social media.

In ancient tribe survival culture, being in "the know" was necessary in being aware of threats and needs of the larger group.

 

Missing out on a new food source, for example, meant you literally missed out on something that could mean the difference between life and death. 

 

When stable farming communities emerged, being in the know involved paying attention, being in the right places at the right times to get resources and information.

Being left out is considered an important event for us to pay attention to and to respond to quickly, thus, we have a part of our brain that is specialized for sensing if we are being left out. Not that it is usually a matter of life and death anymore whether you are on Instagram or Snap Chat but for many people social media has become their community and social lifeline and source of being connected.

That specialized part of the brain is a part of the limbic system, the amygdala, whose job it is to detect whether something could be a threat to our survival.

 

Not having vital information or getting the impression that one is not a part of the “in” group is enough for many individuals' amygdalas to engage the stress or activation response or the “fight or flight” response. This contributes to the alarming depression, addiction, impairment and isolation of our youth. 

Feeling physiologically stressed does not feel good, and that is one of the reasons why the “fear of missing out” feels bad and people want to avoid it. In an attempt to prevent the stress response, some people will unfortunately increase their efforts to not miss out on anything and end up in an almost constant process of “checking” behavior. 

 

That is, they are constantly looking at their feeds to see if they are missing out on anything, which doesn't actually lessen their stress that much. Being in a hypervigilant state is the complete opposite of being at peace.

Checking in with our feed or TEXTS, or just CLICKING our phone can cause dopamine surges that lure is into compulsive loops which lead us to check our phone repeatedly. 

In the article “How evil is tech?”, the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops’.” Most social media sites create irregularly timed rewards, Brooks wrote, a technique long employed by the makers of slot machines, based on the work of the American psychologist BF Skinner, who found that the strongest way to reinforce a learned behavior in rats is to reward it on a random schedule. “When a gambler feels favored by luck, dopamine is released,” says Natasha Schüll, a professor at New York University and author of Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. This is the secret to social media era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound."

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