A study conducted by The University of Chicago Booth School of Business has found that people are more likely to give in to the urge to check social media than to desires for alcohol or cigarettes. The study, designed to measure willpower, asked 205 participants of all ages to report when they experienced desires, how strong the desires were, and whether they resisted or gave in to them over a period of seven days.
Wilhelm Hofmann, head of the team performing the research, found that the highest rates of "self-control failure" occurred with media like Twitter or email. Participants likewise found it extremely difficult not to work, even when work conflicted with leisure time or other activities. Urges for exercise, sex, and spending were also reported, but people were apparently far less likely to act on them. And desire for alcohol, coffee, or cigarettes was actually reported as relatively low.
So why were people more likely to give in to urges to check email than to spend impulsively or smoke? Hofmann says it may be because there's not any direct downside to media use, and because quickly sneaking a look at a smartphone is easier than, for example, finding a place to have a cigarette. However, Hoffman cautions that "even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential [than drinking or smoking], the frequent use may still 'steal' a lot of people's time." The full research paper will be published soon in Psychological Science.