Scientific study with Max Planck Institute

Social media usage cut in half through “one sec” intervention

Our study with the University of Heidelberg and Max Planck Institute detected a reduction of social media usage by 57% thanks to one sec.

We conducted the study through one sec itself, participating users would contribute anonymized usage data over a timespan of the first 6 weeks after installing the app. A survey was filled out before and after. In this blog post, I am presenting a summary of our results. Our study has been peer-reviewed and published in PNAS.

57% Reduction of Social Media Usage

We were able to detect a reduction of social media usage through one sec by 57% on average. How is that possible? The reduction comes from two main effects, one short-term, the other one long-term, that we gonna look into detail in this blog post:

  • Bringing awareness to unintentional usage attempts right when they occur.
  • Long-term behavior change through added friction when opening social media.

How does one sec work?

What is instant gratification?

Instant gratification is a very short-term increase in happiness caused by a quick release of dopamine. 
Examples are opening social media, checking your cryptocurrency portfolio, playing Candy Crush, checking online news, or watching TV shows on Netflix. All these habits release dopamine instantly, and that’s why we come back to them all the time – even though they might not be a conscious decision.

Intervention against instant gratification

one sec’s breathing intervention increases the activation energy for a habit that may not benefit your life: by adding a delay, gratification is not instant anymore. The brain adapts to this new behavior and loses interest in social media as a resource of quick dopamine.

Figure 1 from our publication: Relative comparison of one sec’s interventional effects during weeks 1 to 6. Users can either decide to abort the intervention, or to wait until the breathing exercise is finished to continue into the app.

Short-term effects

Confronting user with their app-habits

Looking at the first week of one sec usage data from our study gives insights into user’s usual social-media behavior: one sec’s long-term effects have not yet kicked in.

Whenever the one sec intervention is displayed, users are confronted with a decision: do I really want to open that app right now? On average, only in 57% of cases users actually proceed into the app.

In other words: 43% of social media usage is purely dopamine-triggered, unintentional, useless, nonsense, time-waste. And social media companies increase their profit by 43% that way.

Long-term effects

Friction causes behavioral change

By taking out the instant gratification, the urge for unintentional social media usage fades away over time: user’s brain now connects opening Instagram with something unpleasant, having to wait 10 seconds during the breathing intervention.

As a result, attempts to open social media apps shrink significantly – resulting in more conscious usage patterns.

On top of that, in 32% of the attempts, users still decide not to continue in the app and abort the intervention.

In total, combining both long-term behavioral change and the abortion of interventions, user’s social media usage shrinked by 57% on average.

Figure 3 from our publication: Comparing the consumption attempts from weeks 1 to 6, and user’s decisions to abort the intervention or to continue into the app.

Improved wellbeing

The scientific evidence has been clear for many years: social media usage is bad for mental health!

And surveys conducted as part of our study confirm that once again: one sec lead to a significant subjective improvement of users’ wellbeing – related to a significant decrease of social media usage.

Published in PNAS vol. 120, no. 8

Our study has been peer-reviewed and published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Access full scientific paper 〉

In case your library doesn’t have access to PNAS publications, you can also read our preprint.

What are you waiting for?

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