Waco, Tx (FOX 44) – Baylor University researchers looking into the effect of Instagram and TikTok on psychological well-being have found that immersion in a world created by social media does bring about addiction and leads to changes in behavior online.

The study noted that Instagram and TikTok are two of the fastest growing social media outlets available not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

Two Baylor University smartphone researchers have looked into the correlation between what they call “flow states” – or as they explain, happiness experienced by people – while using the two and their psychological well-being. The report said a “flow state” occurs when people get so engrossed in an activity that little else seems to matter to them, and they will often continue despite any negative consequences.

Dr. Meredith E. David, Ph.D. is an associated professor of marketing. Dr. James A. Roberts, Ph.D. is the Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in the Hankamer School of Business. These two conducted the study – which surveyed 420 U.S. adults.

Dr Meredith E. David.

The study found that immersion in a world created by the social media experience (something they called “telepresence”) is what drives what was called “problematic social media behavior and addiction.” It was noted that telepresence for both Instangram and TikTok users was associate with higher levels of addiction, mind wandering anxiety and depression. The study revealed that 28 percent of Instagram users and 24 percent of TikTok users in the study would qualify as addicted.

Dr. James A. Roberts.

The researchers discovered that TikTok users report higher levels of overall flow, enjoyment and time distortion than Instagram users. They noted that Instagram is more personal in nature – with users posting photos and commenting on posts within a more intimate circle of friends. TikTok videos are shared with a larger network of friends, followers and often strangers with the primary purpose to entertain and garner likes, comments and shares.

The study showed that TikTok users have fun watching the many short videos on the app, which provides constant reinforcement to continue watching videos. TikTok users reported they were more prone to lose track of time and spend more time than they had intended. They also reported becoming so engrossed in scrolling through videos that they continued the activity despite its negative consequences.

“It is likely that immersion in the world created by the social media experience displaces the more meaningful and close interpersonal relationships on which our psychological well-being depends,” Dr David said.

Dr. Roberts noted that negative impacts of time distortion and “telepresence” can be countered by spending less time on the apps, with suggestions being using screen-time management settings, having someone help monitor time spent on social media, or stopping app use after a predetermined amount of time.

Ultimately what determines the positive or negative effects of social media is dictated by the individual user.

“When overused as a replacement for true connections and communications, social media can be addictive and detrimental to well-being,” David said. “In small doses it can fulfill curiosity, entertain and even educate. Used intentionally, social media can be a useful tool for connecting with others and  fostering established relationships.”