Temporal discounting applied to choice between utilitarian, informational reinforcers, and time spent using social media sites

Oscar Robayo-Pinzon, Gordon Foxall, Sandra Rojas-Berrio

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Social media penetration and usage time continues to grow globally. It has been estimated that by July 2021, there were 4.48 billion social media users globally, representing 57% of the world's total population. In addition, on average users visit about 6.6 social networks per month and spend an average of 2.5 hours per day using social networks (Hootsuite & We Are Social, 2021). Recent studies have found associations between prolonged use of social media and possible negative effects on health and well-being, including anxiety, depression and sleep disorders (Lee et al., 2018; Lian et al., 2016), nomophobia (Arora & Chakraborty, 2020), as well as negative effects on students' academic performance due to anxiety, stress, lack of concentration and sleep alterations (Samaha & Hawi, 2016). One of the streams of research that has addressed the issue is the application of the principles of behavioural economics, in particular the concept of temporal discounting, to the study of the phenomenon, trying to establish relationships between dependence and time of use and a tendency towards impulsivity, measured through scales or intertemporal choice task procedures (Peng et al., 2022; Robayo-Pinzon et al., 2021; West et al., 2021). However, there are few studies that seek to explore alternatives for reducing dependence or time spent on these platforms based on these principles. Therefore, the following research question is proposed: What is the relative reinforcement value of different types of reinforcers (utilitarian and informational) with respect to different temporal magnitudes of social network use (i.e., 30 and 90 min available to use their favourite social network)? To answer this question, we propose to apply an experimental design based on contingency management (Krishnamurti et al., 2020), in which we will establish whether a utilitarian reinforcement is preferred to an informational one in different conditions of time of use of social media. For this purpose, an online survey will be conducted. The sample size will be 500 participants. The inclusion criteria to be applied are: men and women over 18 years of age who have used at least once in the last seven days, one or more of the five main social media sites or apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, YouTube), and having given informed consent. According to Bassett et al. (2020), a 2X2 between-subjects experimental design will be applied to establish the preference for the type of alternative reinforcer (informational, utilitarian), in two conditions of hypothetical social media use for different temporal magnitudes (i.e., 30 and 90 min during which to use the favourite social media network), through the application of an online version of the Multiple-Choice Procedure (MCP). Participants will be randomly assigned to the four experimental conditions (See Table I). In addition, the Social Media Addiction Scale (SMAS) (Çimke & Cerit, 2021; Tutgun-ünal & Deniz, 2015) is applied and along with age, gender, the social media site most used and the number of hours per day dedicated to the use of this social network will be included as moderating variables. The results make it possible to contribute to the design of an intervention focused on reducing the time spent using social media sites.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
StateIn preparation - Feb 1 2022

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