Researchers found even brief exposure to a Facebook-related image such as logo, screenshot can cause a pleasurable response in users.
Finding it difficult to stay off Facebook? Social media is a hard habit to break because even seeing its logos trigger pleasurable feelings, tempting frequent users to log in again, scientists say.
Researchers from Vrije University Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands conducted two studies of frequent and less frequent Facebook users.
They found even brief exposure to a Facebook-related image such as logo, screenshot can cause a pleasurable response in frequent social media users, which in turn might trigger social media cravings.
The combination of pleasant feelings and cravings makes social media too difficult to resist.
Most likely, that is because Facebook exposure is a learned response - such as when children learn misbehaviour earns them attention or when dogs learn going to the bathroom outside earns them a treat - and learned responses are hard to break, said Allison Eden, assistant professor at Michigan State University in the US.
"People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook," she said.
"What we show with this study is that even with something as simple as the Facebook logo, seeing the Facebook wall of a friend or seeing anything associated with Facebook, is enough to bring that positive association back," she said.
In the first study, participants were exposed to a Facebook-related cue or a control picture, followed by a Chinese symbol. They were then asked to judge whether the symbol was pleasant or unpleasant.
After being exposed to a Facebook-inspired image, heavy Facebook users rated the Chinese image as pleasant with greater consistency than less frequent users.
Then, in the second study, participants were given a survey to measure their cravings to use Facebook. People often struggle with feelings of guilt, because of giving in to temptation, Eden said.
If they try to regulate Facebook usage and fail, they feel badly, so they turn to Facebook and feel badly again. It is a cycle of self-regulatory failure, she said.
However, the guilt is more damaging to the psyche than failing to control the media, Eden said.
The solution could be to remove some of the cues from people's environment, like, for example, removing the Facebook logo from a cell phone home screen.
"Media, including social media, is one of the most commonly failed goals to regulate," Eden said. "People try to regulate themselves and they really have difficulty with it," she said.