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The Predictive Utility of Reward-Based Motives Underlying Excessive and Problematic Social Networking Site Use

Wadsley, Michael and Covey, Judith and Ihssen, Niklas (2021) 'The Predictive Utility of Reward-Based Motives Underlying Excessive and Problematic Social Networking Site Use.', Psychological Reports .


Compulsive seeking of reward is a hallmark feature of drug addiction, but the role of reward is less well understood in behavioural addictions. The present study investigated the predictive utility of ten reward-based motives, which we identified in the literature, in explaining excessive and problematic use of social networking sites (SNSs). These motives were examined in a cross-sectional survey of 411 young adults, revealing that prolonged use and excessive checking were predicted by distinctly different motives. More frequent checking of SNSs was most closely associated with motives related to obtaining social rewards (impression management/social comparisons/fear of missing out) and the desire to find/consume enjoyable content. In contrast, the amount of time an individual spends on SNSs was predicted by the desire to engage in negative social interactions or to fulfil personal needs (self-expression/documentation of life events). Problematic SNS use was best explained by the motivation to obtain social rewards and to a lesser extent by enjoyment and negative social potency (e.g., trolling) motives. Our results highlight the importance of social reward in explaining excessive and problematic SNS use, suggesting that a focus on reducing the desire to obtain social reward (e.g., through likes, social comparisons, continual connection) may be most beneficial in tackling problematic SNS behaviours.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Date accepted:25 May 2021
Date deposited:24 June 2021
Date of first online publication:23 June 2021
Date first made open access:24 June 2021

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