Is Facebook more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol?

I’m sure we all know people who just can’t seem to put down their smartphone and stay off Twitter or Facebook for even a couple of hours at a time.

Personally, I know I’ve told my wife on more than one occasion that she’s personally addicted to Facebook. As it turns out, the results of a new study indicate that using media like Twitter and checking e-mail may be more addictive than even cigarettes or alcohol.

The researchers – headed by Wilhelm Hofmann from Chicago University’s Booth Business School – used BlackBerry devices as a tool to gauge the willpower of 205 participants  between the ages of 18 and 85 in the German city of Wurtzburg.

Participants were signaled seven times per day over a 14-hour period for seven days straight. The goal? To gauge the level of desire (or compulsion?) for checking their smartphones at that moment – or over the previous 30 minutes.

As the day wore on, researchers discovered that the ability of the participants to resist accessing their BlackBerries wore down. Interestingly enough, the study group had few reported incidents of desire for things we typically think of as addictive, such as alcohol and cigarettes. In contrast, researchers discovered the highest rate of self-control failures for participant desires actually centered on media consumption.

“Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist,” Hofmann told the UK-based Guardian

“With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs – long-term as well as monetary – and the opportunity may not always be the right one. So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people’s time.”

Frankly, I find the results of the study to be quite interesting, as it brings up a mental image of the people who use Twitter during the Super Bowl. Watchers of the big game may have been able to resist the urge to smoke and drink beer, but they sure had a hard time resisting the urge to use Twitter. Maybe this explains why in the final three minutes of the Super Bowl, Twitter reported it was averaging a cool 10,000 tweets per second.