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Behind the Likes: A User Research Exploration of FOMO in Social Media

DesignImpulse - Behind the Likes: A User Research Exploration of FOMO in Social Media

FOMO reminds us that the virtual world is a canvas of infinite experiences, but it's our choices that give our lives depth.

In the digital age, social media platforms have become integral parts of our lives. They keep us connected, informed, and entertained. However, lurking behind the veneer of connectivity is a psychological phenomenon known as the "Fear of Missing Out" (FOMO). In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of FOMO in social media, examine it from a user research perspective, and provide real-life examples, references, and data to shed light on its profound influence on our online behavior.

Understanding FOMO:

FOMO can be defined as the anxiety and uneasiness people feel when they believe they are missing out on something interesting, exciting, or important happening on social media or in real life. This phenomenon has gained momentum in the context of social media platforms, where a constant stream of updates, photos, and notifications bombard users. The Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is a psychological phenomenon that has gained significant attention in the digital age. It refers to the anxiety or motivation social media users feel when they want to belong to some group, event, or even a moment that others are posting about . This feeling arises from a sense of social exclusion, isolation, or anxiety.

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, with billions of people using various platforms to connect with others, share information, and stay up-to-date with the latest news and trends. However, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). FOMO is a feeling of anxiety or stress that arises when we believe that others are having more fun, experiencing more success, or living better lives than we are.

This fear can be particularly intense when it comes to social media, where we are bombarded with images and updates from our friends and acquaintances that seem to suggest that everyone else is living their best life.

Amid the digital noise, we often forget that the richness of our lives lies in the moments we savor offline, in the quiet spaces between notifications

User Research Perspective:

From a user research perspective, FOMO has been extensively investigated by user researchers and psychologists, shedding light on its psychological foundations. These studies reveal crucial insights:

  1. Social Comparison: FOMO often finds its roots in the realm of social comparison. Users habitually gauge their lives against the curated portrayals on social media, fostering feelings of inadequacy and the gnawing apprehension that they might be missing out on more exhilarating experiences.

  2. Dopaminergic Rewards: The allure of social media lies partly in its ability to deliver intermittent rewards, such as likes, comments, and shares. These rewards trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, creating an addictive feedback loop that compels users to keep scrolling, forever in pursuit of additional rewards.

Impact on Mental Health: Various studies have probed the effects of FOMO on mental health. For instance, researchers at the University of Ankara conducted a study that highlighted a significant correlation between FOMO on social media and problematic internet use among university students. Similarly, a study by scholars at the University of Alabama established FOMO as a predictor of problematic internet use in college students. These findings collectively suggest that FOMO can precipitate excessive social media consumption, with detrimental consequences for mental well-being.

Examples: Illustrative cases underscore the real-world impact of FOMO on mental health:

  1. The Social Media Addiction Case: A young woman's battle with FOMO led her down the perilous path of social media addiction. Hours spent scrolling, comparisons, and the constant anxiety of missing out took a toll on her mental health. Eventually, she sought professional help to reclaim her life from the clutches of addiction.

  2. The Spring Break Setback: Another instance centers on a college student whose spring break was marred by FOMO. Obsessed with checking her social media feeds, she experienced acute anxiety and stress over missing out on her friends' adventures. Her mental health deteriorated to the point where she had to prematurely cut short her trip in pursuit of help.

Examples of FOMO:

  1. The Instagram Vacation Paradox: Imagine a friend incessantly sharing idyllic vacation photos on Instagram. For some followers, this picturesque portrayal can trigger FOMO, cultivating the sense that they are missing out on the perfect getaway.

  2. Event-Based FOMO: When a trending event or hashtag captures the social media spotlight, those not partaking may feel excluded. For instance, a widely shared live stream of a music festival can evoke FOMO in those who couldn't attend the event.

References and Data: Multiple studies provide robust evidence linking FOMO with problematic internet use and its impact on mental health:

  1. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Ankara revealed a significant association between FOMO on social media and problematic internet use among university students.

  2. Researchers at the University of Alabama established that FOMO serves as a predictor of problematic internet use among college students.

  3. A study from the University of California, Irvine, found that FOMO correlates with lower mood and life satisfaction, reinforcing its potential negative influence on mental well-being.

Additional data and insights include:

  • A 2019 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions demonstrated a positive association between FOMO, heightened social media usage, and problematic smartphone use.

  • According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 69% of adults in the United States use social media, with 56% of these users reporting experiences of FOMO.

  • Instagram's "Stories" feature, designed to provide real-time updates, has been identified as a significant contributor to FOMO. Instagram's own data indicates that over 500 million users engage with Stories on a daily basis.

These collective findings underscore the profound impact of FOMO on digital behavior and its potential repercussions on mental health.

FOMO is the alarm clock of the digital age, reminding us to wake up and smell the experiences waiting beyond the screen.

FOMO and Social Media Social media platforms have become a double-edged sword. On one hand, they allow us to stay connected with friends and family, share experiences, and access information from around the world. On the other hand, they can also fuel feelings of FOMO2. A study conducted by Fioravanti et al., 2021, published in the scientific journal Computers in Human Behavior, investigated the link between the individual level of FOMO and social media use. The study found that higher FOMO was associated with more social media use and more problems due to social media use. User Research on FOMO User research provides valuable insights into how users interact with social media platforms and how these interactions can lead to feelings of FOMO. According to a Trust Pulse’s research, 60% of people claim to make purchases because of FOMO, mostly within just 24 hours3. In other words, more than half of the world buys something just because they feel they might be missing out on something good. Examples of FOMO in Social Media FOMO can manifest in various ways on social media platforms. For instance, users may feel compelled to check their feeds constantly for fear of missing out on updates from their friends2. Another common example is when users see posts about events or experiences they were not part of, leading to feelings of exclusion. Data on FOMO Data plays a crucial role in understanding the extent and impact of FOMO. A survey by found that 56% of social media users experience FOMO, with 48% saying that social media makes them feel like they’re missing out on experiences. Furthermore, 45% of people who experience FOMO can’t go for longer than 12 hours without checking social media.

The fear of missing out is a shadow we cast upon ourselves, but the light of genuine presence can always dispel it.

User Experience (UX) design can play a crucial role in mitigating the impact of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in the realm of social media.

User Experience (UX) design plays a crucial role in mitigating the impact of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on users. By understanding the psychology behind FOMO and implementing thoughtful design principles, UX professionals can create digital experiences that promote healthier and more mindful user engagement.

Here's how UX can help solve the FOMO impact:

  1. Creating Reminder Features: One of the main reasons people experience FOMO is because they forget about events or experiences they were interested in1. UX design can solve this problem by creating features that allow users to save and be reminded of these events.

  2. Improving Information Accessibility: UX design can make it easier for users to find and recall information about events they have seen online. This can be achieved through intuitive navigation, effective information architecture, and user-friendly interface design.

  3. Facilitating Social Interaction: UX design can also help alleviate FOMO by making it easier for users to plan and share experiences with their friends. This could involve designing features that allow users to easily share events, coordinate plans, and communicate with their friends within the platform.

  4. Promoting Mindful Usage: Lastly, UX design can promote more mindful usage of social media, helping users to manage their time and attention more effectively. This could involve features that provide usage statistics, set usage limits, or encourage regular breaks.

  5. Clear and Relevant Content: UX designers can prioritize displaying relevant and valuable content to users. This reduces the need for excessive scrolling and minimizes the fear of missing out on important updates. Algorithms that prioritize content based on user preferences and interactions can be employed to ensure users see what matters most to them.

  6. Customizable Notifications: Offering users the ability to customize notifications and alerts empowers them to control the frequency and type of updates they receive. This puts users in charge of their digital experience, reducing the anxiety associated with constantly feeling the need to check for updates.

  7. Progressive Disclosure: UX designers can implement a "progressive disclosure" approach, where information is revealed gradually. This prevents users from being overwhelmed by a constant stream of updates, allowing them to consume content at their own pace.

  8. Mindful Interaction Design: Designers can incorporate principles of mindfulness into interaction design. For instance, prompting users with reflective questions before sharing content, such as "Why are you sharing this?" or "Is this meaningful to you?" can encourage more intentional and less impulsive sharing.

  9. Balance Engagement Metrics: Instead of solely focusing on metrics like time spent on a platform or the number of clicks, UX designers can consider the quality of user engagement. Encouraging meaningful interactions and connections over superficial ones can help users feel more satisfied with their digital experiences.

  10. User Education: UX designers can create onboarding experiences that educate users about FOMO and its potential negative effects. Providing tips on how to use the platform mindfully and how to manage notifications can empower users to make informed choices.

  11. Well-Being Features: Some platforms are introducing well-being features, such as screen time tracking and digital detox reminders. These UX elements encourage users to take breaks and limit their screen time, reducing the compulsive checking associated with FOMO.

  12. Community and Support: UX designers can facilitate the creation of supportive online communities where users can discuss their experiences with FOMO and share strategies for coping with it. This sense of community can help users feel less isolated and more in control of their digital habits.

  13. Feedback and Iteration: Continual user research and feedback loops are essential in UX design. Regularly soliciting user input and making iterative improvements to the platform based on user needs and concerns can help address FOMO-related issues effectively.

  14. Ethical Design: Ultimately, UX professionals should prioritize ethical design practices that prioritize user well-being over engagement metrics. By aligning design goals with user interests and mental health, designers can contribute to a more responsible and user-centric digital landscape.

Remember, good UX design isn’t just about making products more usable - it’s also about understanding and addressing the psychological needs of users. UX design can play a pivotal role in alleviating the negative impact of FOMO by creating digital experiences that are more user-friendly, mindful, and supportive of users' mental well-being. By focusing on user needs and fostering intentional, meaningful interactions, UX designers can help users strike a healthier balance in their digital lives.


FOMO is a powerful psychological force that social media platforms leverage to keep users engaged. While it can drive us to stay connected and informed, it also has the potential to lead to negative emotions and excessive screen time. From a user research perspective, understanding FOMO helps designers and developers create more user-centric experiences, with features that encourage meaningful engagement rather than mindless scrolling.

To mitigate FOMO's negative effects, individuals should practice digital mindfulness, limit their screen time, and focus on the quality of their online interactions rather than the quantity. As we navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape, a balanced approach to social media is essential for our mental well-being and overall satisfaction with our digital lives.

FOMO is a complex phenomenon that is intricately linked with our use of social media. While it can lead to negative outcomes such as increased anxiety and problematic social media use, understanding its causes and effects can help us develop strategies to mitigate its impact. As we continue to navigate the digital age, it’s essential for us to foster a healthy relationship with social media – one that allows us to stay connected without feeling overwhelmed by the fear of missing out.

Article by Mr.Tushar Deshmukh, CEO & Founder UXExpert, Dir. UXUITraining Lab Pvt. Ltd. other services - UXResearch, UXUIHiring, UXTalks, UXTools

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