Scientists Say You Likely Enter A “Dissociative State” While Scrolling Social Media

Have you ever been so engaged in your phone’s social media feed that hours passed before you noticed it? If so, know that you’re surrounded by plenty of company.

Researchers from the University of Washington came up with a clever approach to measure how much “everyday dissociation” (the type we experience when we zone out when commuting or performing ordinary things that don’t demand our complete concentration) occurs while we’re browsing through social media.

Amanda Baughan, a graduate student in computer science at the University of Washington and the study’s principal investigator, came up with the idea for the app while “doomscrolling” was at an all-time high during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technology allows visitors’ Twitter pages and asks them on a frequent basis, once after 3 minutes and after that again every fifteen minutes, if they remember what they’d just reviewed.

After developing their software, which they called Chirp, the UW group had Twitter users install it “as a way to measure dissociation” for 30 days.

As part of the research, app users were asked to evaluate how much they agreed with the remark, “I am currently using Chirp without really paying attention to what I am doing.”

Over the course of the month-long research, 42% of participants stated at least once that they “strongly agreed” with the remark, and 16% claimed they experienced dissociation while using the app in interviews. These results were presented at the 2022 CHI conference.

Research teams also presented a number of interventions, such as pop-up windows telling them that they were wrapped up, having them organize the pages they followed into lists, displaying their account utilization for the day, or displaying a pop-up window saying how long they’d been using the app and asking if they wanted to keep doing so.

According to the UW research report, participants valued the treatments and said that they improved their ability to concentrate.

Even though this isn’t the first time software has introduced such interventions, the data from them can help researchers better investigate and comprehend how we relate to social media.

Other examples include Hulu’s and Netflix’s “are you still watching?” notifications when you’re deep in a binge-watch session or the iPhone’s utilization traceability charts.

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