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CONVERSATIONS: Christiane Arrivillaga on FoMO and the role it plays in smartphone misery.

Professor Christiane Arrivillaga contributed to a study at the University of Toledo that examined how emotion dysregulation and Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) could predict problematic smartphone use among youths. Published in Addictive Behaviors, the study found that emotional clarity, awareness, and impulse control during negative emotions played significant roles in FoMO. The study suggests that excessive smartphone use could be a response to unmet psychological needs and fear of social rejection. Arrivillaga argues that emotional intelligence training, focusing on emotional attention and regulation strategies, can mitigate these issues, which may in turn reduce problematic smartphone use.

She took the time to discuss her research with SCINQ.

Can you explain in simple terms what is meant by “problematic smartphone use” (PSU), and why it’s becoming a topic of growing concern in recent years?

“Problematic smartphone use” is what could be commonly known as “smartphone addiction”. We don’t like to use this terminology because this condition has not been identified as a mental disorder yet. PSU is when a person has negative consequences, like missing school/work assignments, problems with other people, or physical accidents, because of their excessive smartphone use. PSU has become a growing concern for several reasons like more people over the world are using them, they are depending on them more, and the age of first usage is going down. Also, because there are a number of negative consequences associated with them, we need to find ways to prevent PSU.

What does the term “emotion dysregulation” mean, and how is it linked to people’s behavior with their smartphones?

Emotion dysregulation is when people have difficulties identifying, understanding, and managing emotions and emotional responses. Some theories suggest that PSU could be a consequence of using smartphones to manage negative emotions. So, people who have difficulties managing their emotions could be more prone to overusing smartphones as a means to cope with difficult emotions. 

Can you describe what the “fear of missing out” or FoMO is, and why it’s being studied in relation to PSU?

The fear of missing out is when some people have a growing concern about being left out of social experiences. FoMO does not necessarily imply an online fear of missing out, but today most people become aware of social situations through online smartphone apps, such as social media. So, it makes sense to study if those suffering from FoMO could be more inclined to overuse their smartphones to check what other people are doing and if they’re being left out.

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Your research mentions impulse control dysregulation was associated with increased PSU via FoMO. Could you break this down for us, in everyday language?

In our study we explored six facets of emotion dysregulation as potential predictors of PSU: (a) lack of emotional awareness, (b) lack of emotional clarity, (c) non-acceptance of emotional responses, (d) difficulties engaging in goal-directed behavior, (e) difficulties controlling impulsive behavior and (f) limited access to emotion regulation strategies.

Among these strategies, we found that FoMO only bridged the association between having difficulties controlling impulsive behavior when upset and PSU. That means that at least a part of the relation between this emotion dysregulation factor and PSU is explained by higher FoMO. Although the kind of study we conducted does not allow us to draw causal relation conclusions, our model proposes that people with difficulties controlling their behavior when they are upset tend to experience higher FoMO, which could, in turn, increase the probability of suffering from PSU.

Essentially, some people might be more concerned about being left out and cannot control their preoccupation and the impulse to check their phone to see if that is the case, which could eventually lead to PSU.

How significant is the role of FoMO in PSU severity? Could there be other factors at play as well?

Well, we found a strong association between FoMO and PSU, just like other researchers have done before us. However, there are a lot of other factors that could be involved too. Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and stress, are among the strongest predictors. 

What are the clinical implications of your findings? In other words, how might this knowledge help in dealing with or even preventing PSU?

Because we found evidence supporting that impulse control difficulties antecede FoMO and PSU, our study suggests that clinicians, as well as other professionals dealing with PSU, such as educators, could help reduce both conditions by teaching individuals about strategies to help manage negative emotions and control impulsive behavior, such as being mindful of all emotional experiences, regulating access to the smartphone and following healthy habits to foster general wellbeing. 

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