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Understanding ‘fear of missing out’ phenomenon

Do you constantly see yourself getting anxious if you don’t ‘network’ on social media websites? Is the fear of missing out on any information forcing you to stay connected? Do you get worried when you  find out your friends are having fun without you? You’re not alone.

A group of researchers from University of Essex, University of California and University of Rochester wanted to study the different aspects of ‘fear of missing out’. They set out to find out if demographic, motivational and well-being factors relate to fear of missing out.

Understanding fear of missing out

What is fear of missing out? The study defines fear of missing out, or FoMO, as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FoMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”

And, how does social media help? The disruptive medium has reduced the effort one has to put or made it easier to meet other people, across geographies. One can socially engage just with a click. Or, as the study contends, social media utilities such as these [Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites] can be thought of as reducing the ‘‘cost of admission’’ for being socially engaged.”

The social media path also provides a path that is ‘high efficiency, low friction’.

Self-determination theory

It might be apt to mention the self-determination theory too. The theory focuses on the motivation that makes people take decisions that have no external influences — on reasons why someone does something, irrespective of the environment. It identifies three aspects that play a key role:

  1. Autonomy (taking initiative and act independently)
  2. Competency (acting effectively to overcome obstacles)
  3. Relatedness (following norm)
Self-determination theory
Photo: Christina Donelly, Jtneill


The study says, “through this theoretical lens, the FoMO phenomenon can be understood as self-regulatory limbo arising from situational or chronic deficits in psychological need satisfaction.”

Four main findings of the study

It found that individuals who evidenced less satisfaction of the basic psychological  needs for competence (efficacy), autonomy (meaningful choice), and relatedness (connectedness to others) reported higher levels of fear of missing out.

The study also found weight behind the argument that fear of missing out may also be triggered by negative experience.

The findings of the study also “support earlier research indicating the elevation of negative social and emotional states such as boredom and loneliness linked to social  media usage also relate to FoMO.”

Those who suffer from FoMO tend to use Facebook more often immediately after waking, before going to sleep, and during meals.


Motivational, Emotional, and Behavioral Correlates of Fear of Missing Out; Andrew K. Przybylski, Kou Murayama, Cody R DeHaan, Valerie Gladwell

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