Social psychology

What does the fear of missing out mean? New study on FoMO shows it’s not about social media.

missing out - fomo isn't about young people

Teenagers aren’t the only people who experience FoMO, or “Fear of Missing Out.”

According to a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, age actually plays a relatively small role in FoMO.

Fear of missing out isn’t a young person’s thing

Other factors, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, and low self-compassion, are more strongly associated with the FoMO phenomenon. These all involve aspects of social anxiety, in this case the anxiety that other people are having fun without you.

“FoMo is not an adolescent or young adult problem, necessarily,” said the paper’s lead author Chris Barry.

“We expected FoMo to be higher in younger age groups, particularly because of the tremendous amount of social development happening at those times,” he said, “but that’s not what we found.”

Barry and co-author Megan Wong conducted a survey of more than 400 people across the United States. Their ages ranged from 14 to 47. Barry and Wong asked them a wide range of questions related to self-perception, life satisfaction, and social media use.

Social media use is not a good “fear of missing out” predictor

Surprisingly, they found that social media use was not a good predictor of FoMo. For example, different people with similar levels of social media use might have very different reactions to seeing their friends’ activities. One might find seeing other people having fun as inspiring, while the other might find it upsetting.

“We’re not all equally prone to the Fear of Missing Out, but for those who are, social media can exacerbate it,” said Barry, a psychology professor at Washington State University. “If there’s already concern about missing out, then there will be distress at seeing that on social media.”

For people who experience this kind of distress, Barry suggested possibly reducing, or even eliminating social media use. At least for a while.

Overcoming anxiety via more self-compassion

But a longer-term solution involves addressing one’s negative self-perceptions. Ways of doing this include more self-compassion, and trying to view personal setbacks as opportunities for growth. Other suggestions include taking meaningful steps to reduce loneliness, and shifting one’s focus away from other people’s virtual experiences.

“To do something about FoMO,” Barry said,” individuals can foster a greater sense of real connectedness to others, which will lessen feelings of isolation.”

“You can also try being more in the moment,” he added, “concentrating on what is in front of you as opposed to focusing on what else is going on out there.”


More psychology in the news:

  • Nationwide survey finds that anthropophobia – also known as the fear of people – has become the most searched-for phobia of 2020.
  • The brains of lonely people differ from the brains of people who aren’t lonely, perhaps as a result of so much imaginary social contact.
  • A new study of cats and dogs living together finds they can get along just fine, despite their different temperaments
  • A new psilocybin study shows that magic mushrooms are very effective at treating depression.
  • Recent research on Delaware license plates finds that the scarcity of low-numbered plates has turned them into an expensive status symbol.

Study:Fear of missing out (FoMO): A generational phenomenon or an individual difference?”
Authors: Christopher T. Barry and Megan Y. Wong
Published in: Journal of Social and Personal Relationships
Publication date: August 7, 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407520945394
Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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