With 2 billion monthly users, the number one messaging application worldwide is used for more than just texting family and friends. WhatsApp has transformed into a social network of creating groups, sharing information, updating photos and videos of your life, and staying connected with people across the globe.
However, many users have found themselves addicted to WhatsApp, constantly opening up messaging threads to stimulate conversation, send photos, and stay constantly connected to others. But why is WhatsApp so addicting? And how can you understand its mechanisms so you don’t fall into compulsive use?
The Dopamine Rush of Social Validation
Every time you receive a WhatsApp notification, the brain releases the feel-good hormone Dopamine to give you a rush of joy, because it means someone wants to connect with you! Whether someone positively reacts to your message or status through likes or gifs, or is continuing a conversation, this stimulates a feeling of social validation.
Human beings have a natural desire for connection and to feel part of something. You may begin to crave that feeling of social validation, especially if you don’t receive as much as you would like in your day-to-day routine. Users spend an average of 38 minutes a day on WhatsApp connecting with other people through conversations. If you spend more than an hour on the app, it may be time to ask yourself if you feel you lack authentic connection in your real life.
The Fear of Missing Out
WhatsApp plays upon your Fear of Missing Out, which means you may feel pressured to constantly stay up to date with answering or reacting to new messages. WhatsApp’s group chats trigger FOMO in users as we want to stay contributing to the group’s conversation, and with up to 1024 members in a group, you may receive messages constantly that you feel compelled to read.
WhatsApp also recently released WhatsApp Community, which moves beyond the single thread chat in a Group. It organizes similar Groups under one place, so for example, you can organize your sibling group, nuclear family Group, cousins Group, and extended family Group under one umbrella of Family to send quick alerts about holiday plans. However, WhatsApp Communities can continue expanding your FOMO as you want to know what’s happening in your neighborhood watch, political interest, fashion, and other hubs of information.
The Endless Content of Threads and Stories
WhatsApp stores all of your past messages unless you explicitly set a timer to delete your messages after a certain period of time. This allows you to spend a long time catching up on a thread you may have missed, or overanalyze passive-aggressive messages your friend said to you. WhatsApp also auto plays all media previews, from videos to gifs in the chat to keep you from clicking out of the conversation.
WhatsApp also allows users to post daily Stories that last 24 hours and status updates that mirror your mood. You may feel the need to post a daily photo status update to receive more likes of your exciting location or cute outfit, or frequently check to see how long ago your ex was online.
The Psychological Hooks of Stickers, Emojis, and GIFs
Another fun yet addicting feature of WhatsApp is its use of psychological hooks through stickers, emojis, and GIFs. WhatsApp has a wide variety of emotional reactions users can choose from to convey their exact feelings of joy, dismay, disgust, or any emotion under the sun.
In sending and receiving text messages, you often lose the emotion behind the words. However, stickers, emojis, and gifs give you ease of emotional expression for an often comedic effect that also sends a rush of dopamine through you and others who see your reaction. In the end, creating or searching for the perfect GIF or sticker can keep you on the application longer than necessary.
The Social Network
You can find a sense of belonging through a variety of WhatsApp’s facets. WhatsApp continues to evolve beyond just text messaging through the recent launch of WhatsApp Channels, which allows users to follow individuals and organizations for updates in what feels like a private message. Singers can announce tour dates, companies can share news and memes, and influencers can post photos of their daily lives to make you feel closer.
It’s a one-way broadcast, so while you can’t answer, you can still react with emojis to each message or media post, so you feel part of thousands of other people expressing their joy at a new humorous message from their favorite actor. But after you’ve caught up with every message, do you still find yourself opening the app, hoping for a new update from someone? If so, you may have an addiction to WhatsApp.
Breaking WhatsApp Addiction
The constant hits of dopamine to the brain from frequent WhatsApp usage draws a parallel with the brain’s response to a drug addiction. Even after usage loses its pleasure, you may still frequently engage with the app to escape uncomfortable emotions or situations in daily life. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and lack of interest in present-moment activities and relationships.
Here are a few ways to break free from WhatsApp:
- Turn off WhatsApp Notifications from either your phone’s Settings or WhatsApp Settings to limit the amount of triggers that push you to open the app.
- Turn on Force Stop WhatsApp in your settings to prevent WhatsApp from running in the background. When you aren’t on the app, you will automatically appear “offline” to other users.
- You can switch off your mobile data for WhatsApp in your phone settings so you can stop receiving messages while maintaining the use of other apps.
- You can install applications that block you from opening WhatsApp, such as Freedom, a digital tool that lets you create blocklists so you can block as many apps as you’d like within a time frame of your choice.
All of these tactics can help you create designated times of day for you to spend time on WhatsApp and avoid over usage.
Creating Connection in Real Life
Once you’re able to understand how WhatsApp plays off dopamine, social validation, FOMO, and our desire to belong to keep you addicted, you can create a healthier balance of your internet connectivity.
Now that you’re able to put WhatsApp away with the help of tools like Freedom, you may be able to find yourself increasing your work productivity so you can have more free time to enjoy new hobbies, strengthen your relationships, and take an active part in real life.
Written by Lorena Bally