While compulsive Facebook users may have more activity in impulsive systems in the brain, the brain regions that inhibit this behaviour seem to work just fine, unlike in the brains of cocaine addicts, researchers said.
One possibility is that, in cases of Facebook addiction, people are sensitised to respond strongly to positive triggers associated with the site, said study co-author Ofir Turel, a psychologist at California State University, Fullerton.
"They have the ability to control their behaviour, but they don't have the motivation to control this behaviour because they don't see the consequences to be that severe," Turel said.
Turel and colleagues asked 20 undergraduate students to fill out a questionnaire that gauged addiction-type symptoms associated with Facebook use, such as withdrawal, anxiety and conflict over the site.
The researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the participants' brains while they looked at a series of computer images - some Facebook logos, and others of neutral traffic signs.
The students were told to either press or not press a button in response to each image. The higher people scored on the Facebook addiction
survey, the more likely they were to quickly hit the button when viewing Facebook images compared to neutral images.
Similarly, the participants were more likely to mistakenly press the button when they saw a Facebook logo versus a neutral traffic sign.
The Facebook cues were much more potent triggers in people's brains than the traffic signs, Turel said.
"That means that, if you're driving on a street next to someone who has a compulsive relationship with Facebook, they are "going to respond faster to beeps from their cellphone than to street signs," Turel said.
The Facebook "addicts" showed greater activation of their amygdala and striatum, brain regions that are involved in impulsive behaviour. But unlike in the brains of cocaine addicts, for instance, the Facebook users showed no quieting of the brain systems responsible for inhibition in the prefrontal cortex.
That could be because Facebook "addiction" is fundamentally unlike substance addiction, or it could be that the study only looked at people whose daily lives were not much impaired by their desire to be on Facebook, Turel said.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma.


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