The latest news is that college students engage in illegal drug and alcohol use.

That’s not exactly news, I see. Though this is: In the age of social media, “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, can predict these undesirable behaviours with startling accuracy. That is what Southern Connecticut State University researchers discovered in a recent study that was published in PLOS One.

Researchers polled 472 undergraduates (aged 18 to 24) and discovered that those with higher levels of FOMO were more likely to commit academic dishonesty, abuse drugs and alcohol, and break the law.
According to the paper, FOMO is the “chronic worry that one is missing rewarding/fun activities peers are experiencing.” The majority of people (almost 90%) have experienced it, but it’s most prevalent in persons between the ages of 18 and 34.

“Almost all of us feel FOMO,” says Paul McKee, a PhD candidate in Duke University’s Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program and the study’s lead author. “Hopefully, none of us engage in any severe maladaptive, harmful, or criminal behaviour.” However, there is evidence from this study and other studies suggesting that those with higher levels of FOMO may be more prone to experience detrimental effects on their mental health, such as increased anxiety or sadness, or engage in unhealthy behaviours.

A 10-question questionnaire was given to study participants to gauge their FOMO levels. They were asked to rank the truthfulness of each of the following statements on a scale of 1 to 5:

  1. I worry that others enjoy more rewarding things than I do.
  2. I worry that my friends are having more fulfilling experiences than I am.
  3. When I learn that my pals are having fun without me, I become concerned.
  4. When I don’t know what my pals are doing, I become anxious.
  5. It’s crucial that I comprehend “in jokes” made by my buddies.
  6. From time to time, I question whether I spend too much time keeping up with events.
  7. I become upset when I don’t get to see my pals when I have the chance.
  8. It’s crucial for me to share the details of my fun online (e.g. updating status).
  9. I get upset when I have to cancel a planned get-together.
  10. I continue to monitor what my pals are doing when I’m away.

The likelihood that a student engaged in inappropriate activity increased with their average FOMO score.

According to McKee, “Maladaptive behaviours were more likely for someone with a 3 than a 2, and even more likely for a 4 than the 3.”

These actions included being disrespectful in the classroom (such as checking your phone during class), plagiarising, abusing drugs and alcohol, stealing, and dispensing both illicit and legal substances. And even after taking gender, living situation, and social and economic standing into account, the connections persisted.

In the end, the researchers discovered that FOMO could accurately predict whether a student will engage in academic dishonesty with an accuracy of up to 87%, drug usage with an accuracy of up to 78%, unlawful activity with an accuracy of up to 75%, and alcohol use with an accuracy of up to 73%.

That’s astounding, especially in light of the fact that, as McKee points out, a quick test that includes the aforementioned 10 questions may be sufficient to identify these habits.

The latest study is consistent with earlier studies that have connected FOMO to detrimental effects like anxiety disorders, sleep issues, and increased alcohol consumption.

Research has also connected social media use and FOMO.

According to McKee, “there is enough research available today that provides strong evidence of a bidirectional association between FOMO and social media use. In other words, “FOMO may cause one to use social media more, but FOMO may cause one to use social media more.”

The researchers claim that additional study is required to fully comprehend the relationship between FOMO and conduct. That might enable us to lessen any potential risks.

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