Instagram is the social media application known for its appealing design, flashy photos, and influencer sponsored marketing. Approximately 2 billion active users visit each month, making Instagram the fourth most popular social media program in the world. Statistics show people use Instagram to share photos and videos, find funny and entertaining content, research brands and products, message friends and family, and stay up-to-date with news and events.
With 60% of users between the ages of 18-34, Instagram is highly popular among Gen Z and Millennial demographics who respectively spent between 4.5 and 3.8 hours per day on social media in 2021. Although there’s debate behind how many hours a day spent online constitutes a social media addiction, if you spend more than the average 30 minutes a day on Instagram, this may be indicative that you are suffering from compulsive app use. Today we’re breaking down the mechanisms that Instagram uses to keep you hooked, so your new awareness can lead you to a healthier relationship with this social media network.
Creating Habit Loops & Variable Rewards
Instagram is excellent at encouraging you to stay engaged through the habit loop model of cue, routine, and reward. The application utilizes several cues to keep you returning, the most obvious being a notification. The app notifies you of the tiniest interaction, whether a user is now “going live” or someone liked your comment. As you open the app, it’s easy to engage with content through follows, likes, comments, and shares, all of which tap into the reward center of the brain.
Occasionally, a particularly funny meme or interesting post rewards your brain with a burst of dopamine. This is known as the Variable Reward effect, which operates similarly to winning at a fruit machine in a gambling setting. As you create a routine, your brain builds neural pathways of the simple habit of engaging with the application.
Endless Scroll on the Explore Page
One of Instagram’s main hooks is its endless scroll feature, offering you never ending content on both your feed and Explore page, which continuously exposes users to new interesting content. The Explore page is a huge player in offering Variable Rewards and exploiting your novelty-seeking behavior to maintain high engagement, whether you’re discovering new interests and communities built around that interest, from politics to cooking to fashion to celebrity news.
Visual Stimulation and Aesthetic Gratifications
Instagram is a social media application that prioritizes visual content above all else, and therefore emphasizes aesthetic appeal. Humans have an instinctive attraction towards beauty, and visual stimulation can trigger emotional responses like trust or desire, from believing the fast facts on aesthetic pastel infographics to wanting to buy the facial cream offered by the handsome influencer.
Do you worry you might not catch your favorite profile’s next post or find yourself desiring to go on the island vacation your friend just showed off? You may have a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), which Instagram thrives on. Because most people tend to share carefully curated moments from life, you may tend to thrust yourself into a subconscious game of social comparison, wanting to make social media your highest priority to post the highlights of your life to keep up with the rest.
Instagram takes note of how much time we spend interacting with a post, profile, or hashtag to offer us more similar content, like gluten-free recipes, workout influencers, or even advertisements. This creates a feedback loop of ever-improving accuracy that promotes addictive behavior.
Instagram uses your algorithm to show you sponsored content based on your demographics, preferences, and habits seamlessly mixed in with other content. The rise of influencer marketing tends to utilize a narrative in which products and services are organically integrated into their life and brand, which creates a sense of trust in you as a follower. Your favorite fashion influencer may create a post styling sponsored clothes from a particular brand, thus making you want to buy the same thing.
Managing Compulsive Use
Unfortunately, excessive usage of Instagram may lead to increased feelings of loneliness, a drop in productivity, and negatively affect your real-world relationships. It’s important to recognize addictive behavior so you can begin to manage your technology habits. Try some of these strategies:
- Turn off your push notifications so your brain can resist the dopamine hit of clicking on a notification. This removes the most persistent external trigger to open the app.
- Instagram has a “Take a Break” and “Daily Time Limit” feature that helps users spend less time on the app through reminders and hard limits. Here’s how to set them up.
- When your willpower isn’t enough to keep you away, Freedom is a tool that allows you to block a customized list of apps and websites of your choice for a predetermined time. It operates across multiple devices, so you can’t escape to Instagram on your computer when the app is blocked on your phone.
Take Back Your Freedom
Instagram’s psychological manipulation of user-centric design, habit loops, and dopamine reactions is orchestrated through glossy designs, personalized algorithms, sponsored content, and endless scrolling that lead to compulsive app use. When you become aware of these mechanisms, you may alter the way you interact with the app and find more time to engage in real-world relationships and activities. How do your Instagram habits look now? It may be time to change them with the help of tools like Freedom.
Written by author Lorena Bally