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FOMO and Social Media

A new study links social media use to FOMO

Key points

  • A new study investigated the association between FOMO (fear of missing out) and social media use.
  • Higher FOMO was associated with more social media use and more problems due to social media use.
  • Age and gender did not affect the results.

Do you like using social media apps or do you find social media boring?

People show considerable differences in their interest in social media and researchers are only beginning to grasp why. Understanding what makes people interested in social media is particularly important in the context of so-called problematic social media use. Problematic social media use occurs if social media use starts to resemble an addiction. For example, if someone is spending so much time on social media that they neglect real-life relationships, or risk their jobs, this can be considered problematic use. Knowing which factors lead to problematic social media use is important for developing psychological strategies to help people who engage in it getting back to a healthy relationship with social media.

One concept that has been linked to problematic social media use is FOMO, or “fear of missing out." FOMO describes the nagging feeling that other people may be experiencing something fun and awesome but that you are missing out on it. It is easy to see why experiencing FOMO has been linked to interest in social media: If someone is afraid that their friends are doing all of these awesome activities without including them, constantly checking their social media feeds to see what they are up to could make sense from this person’s perspective.

A new study investigates the link between FOMO and social media use

What does science show about the association between FOMO and social media use?

A new study (Fioravanti et al., 2021), published in the scientific journal Computers in Human Behavior, investigated the link between the individual level of FOMO and social media use, as well as problematic social media. The authors conducted a meta-analysis — a statistical analysis that integrates the results of many different scientific studies. It has the advantage of a larger sample size, increasing statistical power and rendering the analysis less likely to be affected by characteristics of individual studies. In the study, the authors integrated the results of 33 independent samples on FOMO and social media with an overall number of participants of 21,473.

The results were clear: People who showed more FOMO also showed more problematic social media use. The age and gender of the participants in the included studies did not influence this effect. The team also investigated the relation of FOMO with differences in personality of the tested participants. They found that people who showed high FOMO also were more depressed, anxious, and neurotic than those with lower FOMO. Moreover, high FOMO was linked to a higher fear of negative evaluation. In contrast, people with lower FOMO had a higher level of self-discipline than those with high FOMO.

What the results mean

The results show that FOMO and social media use, as well as problems due to social media use, are linked. Since this was a correlative study, no clear statement regarding whether or not FOMO causes social media use can be made.

On the one hand, it could be assumed that people with high FOMO check the social media feeds of their friends and family to not miss out on what happens in their lives.

On the other hand, the association could also go the other way around. If someone constantly checks the social media feeds of other people, they may develop FOMO because they see other people doing all these awesome things all the time. That these pictures often look better than the actual experience was is often ignored.

But one way or the other, the study suggests, FOMO is a relevant factor when it comes to social media use that should be considered for psychological interventions for problematic social media use.

What the results imply for people who show problematic social media use

If you feel like you or a loved one may show problematic social media use, reflecting on the reasons why this behavior happens may be helpful. Potentially, FOMO could be a factor affecting compulsively checking social media websites or apps. If so, think about ways of reducing FOMO.


Giulia Fioravanti, Silvia Casale, Sara Bocci Benucci, Alfonso Prostamo, Andrea Falone, Valdo Ricca, Francesco Rotella. (2021). Fear of missing out and social networking sites use and abuse: A meta-analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 122, 106839.

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