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How TikTok Keeps You Hooked and Perpetually Scrolling

Which social media application has over 1.1 billion active users each month? TikTok has become the platform of choice for younger generations, with 80% of users between the ages of 16-34. Gen Z users claim TikTok is the most addicting app ever. But what is it that makes TikTok so compelling? And how can you break free of its pull? 

For You Page

You’ve just downloaded TikTok and opened the application. Instead of an empty feed waiting to be filled with content from profiles you follow, you’re immediately met with recommendations on the “For You Page,” which is personalized for every user. Unlike most social media platforms users do not choose what they want to see; instead, artificial intelligence chooses content for you. 

Then, based on your engagement with each video, such as likes, comments, reshares, replays, and even the amount of time spent watching content, AI constructs an increasingly accurate algorithm that feeds you more frequent Variable Rewards, adding to the addictive quality of the platform. The For You page also incorporates the endless scroll in which you receive neverending content that auto-plays into the next video. 

Young Audience & Content Creators

TikTok is most popular with younger audiences and the most severe addiction is seen within that demographic. Approximately 47% of users are under 30 years old, and 52% of content creators are 18-24 years old, which keeps the majority of content particularly appealing among the Gen Z demographic. 

Many young people also crave self-expression and acceptance from others, so young users find TikTok to be a safe place to explore their identities through communities of comedy, dance, fashion, etc, and they receive positive feedback and social validation through likes. 

Short-Form Format

TikTok also appeals to the shortening attention spans of adolescents with videos that are between 15 and 60 seconds long. This is just enough time to capture your attention with a quick punchline, an easy-to-learn dance, or an aesthetic visual. 

The short format also tricks you into believing that watching “just one more” is a low time commitment. However, this leads to a distorted sense of time, so you continue scrolling until you’ve spent an average of 95 minutes a day (or maybe more!) on the app. 


TikTok also utilizes gamification to maintain high user engagement, such as points, levels, rewards, and challenges that keep you as a user or creator more addicted. For example, if you create a popular video, you will be rewarded with higher visibility in your next videos on others’ “For You” pages, which encourages compulsive behavior as users keep striving to create increasingly popular content.  

Many businesses use Gamified Brand Effect templates that allow you to interact through motion, facial expression, and poses, encouraging you to try and win rewards for going viral. These effects capitalize off the attention economy, in which your time and attention spent on the app translates into more money for TikTok and businesses who use the platform.

Signs of TikTok Addiction

A study in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that addicted users tend to become “nervous, irritable, anxious, or exhibit strong feelings of sadness when deprived of access to the social networking site (withdrawal) and the user’s attempts to control participation in SNS are unsuccessful (relapse).” 

Another study found that individuals with social media addictions often chose emotion-focused coping to alleviate stress instead of problem-focused coping. This means that they often use social media to increase dopamine and remove themselves from stressful situations instead of addressing the root of their issue, which increases emotional exhaustion over time.

Does this sound like you? Then it may be time to break free of your addiction and create a healthier relationship with TikTok, or remove it from your life completely. 

How To Curb TikTok Use

  • Tiktok’s Screen Time Management setting may help you choose time caps, sleep reminders, and screen time breaks to alert you when you’ve hit your desired daily or weekly limit. However, these alerts don’t actually block you out of the app, so it’s just as easy to ignore them.
  • When sheer willpower isn’t cutting it, a third-party situation may be necessary to keep you away from TikTok. Freedom is a digital tool that allows you to create customized lists of websites and apps to block them for a predetermined amount of time.
  • When you’re not on TikTok, it’s important to find something that keeps you busy so you aren’t lured back by boredom. Doing something absorbing with your hands, such as baking treats, playing music, creating art, or building a puzzle may prevent you from reflexively picking up your phone and scrolling

Win Back Your Time from TikTok

TikTok is a cleverly designed app packed with streamlined user design elements like auto-play, gamification, short-form format, and AI-generated content that keeps you perpetually online, especially if you are part of Gen Z.

If you find yourself easily irritated, constantly opening the app, and ignoring present-day problems, relationships, and tasks, it’s time to end your addiction through time management strategies, apps like Freedom, and most importantly, new hobbies that bring you joy.

Written by author Lorena Bally