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Personality and Individual Differences 139 (2019) 277–280

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Personality and Individual Differences

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

Short Communication

Social media addiction in romantic relationships: Does user's age influence T

vulnerability to social media infidelity?
Irum Saeed Abbasi
San Jose State University, United States of America


Keywords: Compulsive social media use has repercussions on the users' social, psychological, professional, and personal
Social media addiction lives. The availability of online romantic alternatives disguised as ‘friends’ provide a ripe environment that can
Infidelity facilitate an emotional and/or sexual affair. Online interactions with virtual friends consume users' attention and
Facebook distract them from spending time with their significant other, which leads to adverse relationship outcomes. In
Emotional intimacy
this study, we examined the relationship between social media addiction and infidelity related behaviors in a
Online affair
sample of 365 partners (242 females, 123 males). We also explored if age influences this connection. The
Internet communication
findings suggest that SNSs addiction predicts SNSs infidelity related behaviors and age moderates this re-
lationship. The study also finds that a age is negatively related with SNSs addiction and SNSs related infidelity.
Implications and limitations of the study are discussed.

1. Introduction (Elphinston & Noller, 2011; Karaiskos, Tzavellas, Balta, &

Paparrigopoulos, 2010).
Internet provides many platforms that connect users with known Relationships formed on SNSs are also addictive and can negatively
and unknown virtual connections in the cyberspace. Currently, one of influence the primary romantic relationship (Marshall, 2012). Re-
the most ubiquitous platforms used for online interactions is social searchers have coined a term ‘Technoference’ for the everyday tech-
media. It offers a popular way of initiating, developing, and main- nological intrusions in couple interactions or time spent together
taining existing as well as new relationships including illicit relation- (McDaniel & Coyne, 2016). Research on partner phubbing (snubbing
ships. Many social networking sites (SNSs) have spawned due to users' the partner when one is using phone) also points to the deleterious
demands such as Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Instagram. The effect of using cell phone when in the company of the significant other
popularity of SNSs is rooted in the online features that allow users to (Chotpitayasunondh & Douglas, 2016). SNSs addiction is also linked
share photos, interests, opinions, and even intimate thoughts and ex- with a decreased in the quality of the primary romantic relationship,
pressions. Interactions on SNSs can be beneficial (Shaw & Gant, 2002). physical and emotional infidelity, relationship dissatisfaction, romantic
However, these interactions can potentially turn into a habitual com- disengagement, and a higher risk of divorce (Abbasi & Alghamdi,
pulsion (behavioral addiction), which is referred to as “Facebook in- 2017a, b; Abbasi, 2018a; Kerkhof, Finkenauer, & Muusses, 2011; Utz &
trusion” (Elphinston & Noller, 2011) or “SNSs addiction” (Andreassen, Beukeboom, 2011; Valenzuela, Halpern, & Katz, 2014).
Torsheim, Brunborg, & Pallesen, 2012; Ryan, Chester, Reece, & Xenos, Social media offers features that enable users to publicly or privately
2014). SNSs addiction can cause social overload (Maier, Laumer, flirt with other users (Clayton, Nagurney, & Smith, 2013). Flirting in the
Eckhardt, & Weitzel, 2012), envy (Mukesh, Mayo, & Goncalves, 2016; virtual world elicits stronger physical and sexual reactions than ex-
Tandoc, Ferrucci, & Duffy, 2014), and anxiety (Labrague, 2014). perienced in a face-to-face interaction (Alapack, Blichfeldt, & Elden,
Moreover, SNSs addiction can exhibit symptoms of substance abuse 2005). The lack of physical presence makes cyberspace interactions
including deficient self-regulation, neglect of personal life, cognitive uninhibited and users aggressively share their most intimate thoughts
preoccupation, mood modifying experiences, tolerance, concealment of and desires (Abbasi & AlGhamdi, 2017b; Carter, 2015; Cravens &
addictive behaviors, and escapism (Kuss & Griffiths, 2011; Kuss & Whiting, 2014; Helsper & Whitty, 2010). This lack of self-inhibition
Griffiths, 2017). SNSs addiction manifests itself as a functional im- online can lead to an emotional affair, which is the hallmark of Internet
pairment and shares some characteristic features of substance abuse infidelity (Hertlein & Piercy, 2006). Infidelity is constituted of “inter-
addictions such as euphoria, withdrawal, relapse, and reinstatement actions in a relationship in which at least one of the people engaging in

E-mail address: Irum.abbasi@gmail.com.

Received 11 November 2017; Received in revised form 25 October 2018; Accepted 29 October 2018
Available online 01 December 2018
0191-8869/ © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
I.S. Abbasi Personality and Individual Differences 139 (2019) 277–280

it understands there to be a violation of agreed or implicit sexual and/or were directed to the main survey, which included a battery of ques-
emotional boundaries within their couple relationship” (Daines, 2006, tionnaires described below.
p. 48). When such interactions occur on the internet, they constitute
Internet infidelity, which can be both, sexual and emotional (Henline, 2.3. Measures
Lamke, & Howard, 2007). Researchers have found that maladaptive
Facebook use is linked with feelings of jealousy, suspicion, and loss of 2.3.1. Demographic questionnaire
trust (Muise, Christofides, & Desmarais, 2009). Suspecting partners The demographic questionnaire included self-report items that as-
engage in partner's surveillance and retaliatory behaviors that leads to sessed age, gender, ethnicity, diagnosis of mental illness, sexual or-
conflict, loss of trust, and breakup (Cravens & Whiting, 2014; Muise ientation, country and state of residence, etc.
et al., 2009). The problematic SNSs behaviors include viewing porno-
graphy, emotional disclosure, cybersex, emotional involvement, hot 2.3.2. Social Media Infidelity-Related Behaviors (SMIRB) scale
chatting, and online dating (Dijkstra, Barelds, & Groothof, 2013; To measure infidelity-related behaviors on social media, we used
Henline et al., 2007). SMIRB, which is a 7-items scale developed by McDaniel, Drouin, and
The prevalence of addictive Facebook use is higher in the young Cravens (2017). An example item is ‘I sometimes like to chat or message
population (Abbasi, 2018b; Kuss & Griffiths, 2011). The peer pressure old romantic partners online or on social networking sites’. Participants
to engage in popular technologies may be at the root of this addiction rated their agreement on a 6-point response scale (1 = strongly disagree,
(Orchard & Fullwood, 2010). Among millennials (18 to 34-year-olds), 6 = strongly agree). Items were averaged for analyses where high scores
Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are the three most commonly used represented greater tendency to engage in infidelity related behaviors.
SNSs (Perez, 2014). Even otherwise, young people are generally prone Reliability of the SMIRB-7 for this study was 0.85.
to developing an Internet addiction (Kuss, Griffiths, & Binder, 2013).
Furthermore, previous research has found an inverse relationship be- 2.3.3. Modified Facebook intrusion questionnaire
tween age and Facebook activity intensity, which was seen across an An eight-item scale developed by Elphinston and Noller (2011) was
age range of 16 to 56 years (Ozimek & Bierhoff, 2016). This relationship used to assess the behavioral addiction component among SNSs users.
was mediated by social comparison (McAndrew & Jeong, 2012; Ozimek We modified the Facebook intrusion scale to cover all social media
& Bierhoff, 2016). Researchers argue that as people grow older, they (rather than just Facebook) by replacing Facebook in each item with
tend to use Facebook less often because the need for comparison with social media. The eight items measured the link between the tendency
significant others declines with age (McAndrew & Jeong, 2012). This is towards SNSs involvement and eight aspects of behavioral addiction.
probably because the personal and professional goals (partnership, Responses were rated on a seven-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree
work, family) are more likely to have been met at an older age than at a and 7 = strongly agree). An example item is ‘I feel connected to others
younger age. when I use social media’. Reliability of this modified scale for the
As previously mentioned, SNSs interactions can be addictive and present study was 0.81.
could potentially lead to specific behaviors (flirting, infidelity) that
have been shown to adversely impact romantic relationships. Younger 3. Results
population may be prone to developing infidelity because they tend to
take risk and disclose freely in an online versus face-to-face environ- To test the hypotheses, SPSS PROCESS Macro (Model 1) developed
ment (Gray, 2016). Building on this, the author hypothesized that there by Hayes (2013) was used with 5000 bootstrap resamples (p < .05).
is a positive relationship between SNSs addiction and SNSs infidelity For analyses, SNSs addiction was added as the predictor variable (X),
behaviors (H1) and age will moderate this relationship (H2). Ad- SNSs infidelity was added as the outcome variable (Y), and age was
ditionally, age is positively related to SNSs addiction and SNSs infidelity added as the moderator (M). Gender and romantic relationship status
(H3). were added as control variables.
The overall model was significant [F (5, 359) = 21.69, p < .001,
2. Methods R2 = 0.48]. In line with H1, we found that SNSs addiction is a sig-
nificant predictor of SNSs infidelity (b = 0.04, t(359) = 8.21
2.1. Participants p < .001). Essentially, individuals who reported higher SNSs addiction
also reported greater SNSs related infidelity behaviors. We also found
The sample included 365 participants (242 females, 123 males) support for H2; the relationship between SNSs addiction and SNSs
between the ages of 18–73 years (M = 27.94, SD = 11.67). 35.1% of
the participants reported to be married, 14.2% reported to be in a Table 1
committed relationship, and 50.7% reported to be casually dating. Our Pearson's bivariate correlations and descriptives of variables and controls.
sample was from diverse ethnic backgrounds and included Whites 1 2 3 4 5
(47.4%), Asian (20.8%), Hispanic (24.4%), African American (6.3%),
Native American (0.8%), and miscellaneous others (0.3%). The parti- 1. SNSs addiction – .39** −.29** .27** .06
2. SNSs infidelity −.13* .21** −.20**
cipants spanned a spectrum of occupations, and all participants resided
3. Age −.76** .06
in the US and more than half resided in California (52.2%). 4. Relationship status −.05
5. Gender
2.2. Procedure Mean (SD) 27.27 2.09 27.94 2.82
(8.70) (.88) (11.67) (1.36)

An institutional review board (IRB) at a public university in the Women

United States approved the present study. Snowball sampling was used Mean 27.67 1.96 28.48 2.77
SD 8.25 .85 12.43 1.38
to recruit participants in the study. A survey link was shared on the
approving university's research website, Facebook, Linkedin, Amazon Men
Mean 26.49 2.34*** 26.89 2.91
Turk, Whatsapp, etc. The inclusionary criteria included being at least
SD 9.52 .87 9.97 1.31
18 years of age, having a heterosexual romantic relationship, and re-
siding in the USA. We excluded cases where participants self reported to Note. N = 365. Correlation is significant at the ***p < .001, **p < .01,
have been diagnosed with a mental illness or failed the attention check *p < .05.
questions. The participants who agreed to the terms of the research

I.S. Abbasi Personality and Individual Differences 139 (2019) 277–280

infidelity related behaviors was moderated by age (b = 0.00, t professional, psychological and interpersonal lives.
(359) = 2.15, p < .05). In younger people, the relationship between
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