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The Science of Habitual Social Media Usage and How It Relates to Forming New Health Behaviours.

In our digital age, social media platforms have woven themselves into the fabric of our lives. What began as a conscious choice to connect, express, and engage with others has, for many, transformed into a reflexive habit.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences provides valuable insights into the evolution of social media behaviour, particularly among frequent users. Although rooted in social media, these findings offer valuable lessons on how to successfully adopt and maintain new health behaviours.

Habitual Posting Behaviour Persists

The study's first significant finding was that habitual social media users continue to post consistently, regardless of the number of 'likes' or comments they receive. This suggests that their posting behaviour is not solely reliant on external validation but is deeply ingrained as a habit.

Structural Changes Have Temporary Effects

When social media platforms undergo structural changes, such as Facebook's redesign in 2007, habitual posting behaviour may slow temporarily. However, habitual users tend to adapt quickly to these changes and revert to their previous posting patterns. This adaptability raises questions about the long-term effectiveness of altering the environment in sustaining new habits.

Motivational Interventions Are Less Effective

Motivational interventions aimed at regulating social media behaviour appear to be less effective on habitual users. These individuals demonstrate resistance to changes influenced by positive or negative social feedback. This finding underscores the challenges of modifying entrenched habits, whether in the digital realm or in adopting new healthy behaviours.

Connecting Social Media Habits to health behaviours

To better understand the implications of these findings for forming new health behaviours, we must delve into the psychology of habit formation and motivation.

Habit Formation:

Just as habitual social media users respond automatically to contextual cues, individuals attempting to adopt new health behaviours can benefit from creating strong cues and routines. For example, setting a specific time or location for exercise or healthy eating can help establish a new habit loop.

Social Rewards:

The study suggests that social rewards, such as 'likes' and comments, have varying effects on different user groups. Similarly, in adopting new health behaviours, external rewards (like praise or encouragement from others) may be less effective than intrinsic motivations (personal health goals, self-improvement, or connecting to your why).

Implications for Forming Health Behaviours

These findings offer valuable insights into forming and sustaining new health behaviours.

Consistency is Key:

Just as chronic social media users continue to post consistently, forming new health behaviours requires consistent effort. Repeating the behaviour at the same time or in the same context can help reinforce the habit loop.


When making lifestyle changes, expect temporary setbacks when your environment changes or circumstances shift. Like habitual users who quickly adapt to social media platform changes, it's crucial to adapt and persevere when disruptions occur.

Intrinsic Motivation:

Relying on intrinsic motivations, such as personal health goals and purpose, can be more effective than seeking external validation when adopting health behaviours. Cultivating a deep sense of purpose can fuel your commitment.

Structural Changes:

While motivational interventions may not always work for habitual users, making structural changes to your environment can facilitate habit formation. Create an environment that supports your new habit, whether it's rearranging your kitchen for healthier eating or dedicating a space for regular exercise.

The parallels between habitual social media usage and forming new health behaviours reveal valuable lessons for those seeking to make positive lifestyle changes. Consistency, adaptability, intrinsic motivation, and structural support are key factors in successfully adopting and maintaining new habits. By understanding the science behind habit formation and applying these principles, individuals can better navigate the journey towards healthier, more fulfilling lives. Just as habitual social media users can adapt and change their behaviours, so too can we when pursuing our goals for improved health, wellbeing, and performance.


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