The tendency to strive for immediate gratification by neglecting potential negative long-term outcomes characterizes addictive behaviors, such as substance use or gaming disorder. Problematic social-network use is currently discussed as another potential addictive behavior, which is considered to result from an imbalance between affective and cognitive processes, indicated by traits such as increased impulsivity and/or decreased executive functions and decision-making abilities.
This study investigates the respective functions in social-network users by use of the Cards and Lottery Task (CLT) – a decision-making task under risk conditions in which options contain conflicting immediate and long-term outcomes at the same time. A sample of German and Spanish participants (N = 290) performed the CLT as well as the Modified Card Sorting Test (MCST), Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS), the short Internet Addiction Test specified for social-networking (sIAT-SNS), and screeners on other potentially problematic behaviors.
Comparing extreme groups based on sIAT-SNS scores (1SD above/below mean), individuals with problematic social-network use (n = 56), as compared to those with non-problematic social-network use (n = 50), showed increased attentional impulsivity and reduced executive functions. No differences were observed in decision-making performance.
The findings indicate that problematic social-network use is related to attentional rather than general decision-making deficits. Furthermore, problematic social-network use is likely to co-occur with other problematic Internet-use behaviors, particularly gaming or shopping.