Habit or addiction? A qualitative exploration of Instagram and addictive design characteristics

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Bachelor's thesis
Major of Design
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Bachelor's Programme in Design
Instagram is one of the world's most popular social media platforms, with approximately 1.3 billion monthly users spending an average of 11.75 hours per week on the application (Prosser, 2021). Many people may be habituated to using social media on a regular basis. Habit-forming design practices are embraced in the world of business and are acknowledged as one of the primary drivers for increasing companies’ revenue (Eyal & Hoover, 2014). For example, Designers may adopt a hooked cycle model filled with triggers and rewards in developing a habit-forming product, such as social media platforms, to ensure that users spend increasingly long periods of time using the product (Eyal & Hoover, 2014). However, spending extended periods of time on the social media platforms, such as Instagram, may negatively impact individuals’ daily lives and personal relationships and lead to addiction (Serenko & Serenko, 2020). Social media addiction is a form of behavioural addiction involving the intense desire to repeat a pleasurable action perceived to improve well-being or relieve stress (Karim & Chaudhri, 2012). There has been an extensive discussion about the consequences of Instagram addiction and the severe psychological impact it may have, such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. However, there has not been enough exploration that may provide an understanding of how certain design features make Instagram addictive (Sun & Zhang, 2021). Therefore, this thesis addresses the question of how to identify addictive Instagram design features. The aim of the research is to gather information and establish a template for the characteristics of addictive Instagram design features. A literature review was conducted to identify user motivations for Instagram use, such as social needs, recognition needs, need for relatedness, and fear of missing out (FOMO). In addition to the literature review, semi-structured interviews were conducted for data analysis. The data collection was separated into two stages. The first stage of data collection included interviews with psychologists and sociopsychologists to identify Instagram features that may satisfy the user needs determined by the literature review. The second stage of data collection involved semi-structured interviews with user experience designers to determine repetitive design characteristics present in the addictive Instagram features identified in the first stage of data collection. The results show that feedback, references to infinite and new content, and continuous service updates are the most prominent Instagram addiction motivators. It was determined that continuous service updates and references to infinite and new content may function as the first compulsive use trigger in the user journey on the social media platform, whereas feedback may provoke the feeling of reward for the user. It can be theorized that the identified characteristics may motivate and reinforce addictive behaviour by creating a loop of triggers and rewards. This also corresponds with the hooked cycle model by offering consumers a sense of involvement and unfinishedness, motivating them to return for more. The findings may lead to speculation that Instagram addiction drivers and habit-forming design practices share a significant amount of parallels.
Person, Oscar
Thesis advisor
Jeong, Rebecca
instagram addiction, behavioural addiction, user needs, user experience design, addictive Instagram design features, addiction motivators
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