Monday, 4 January 2016

Is your FoMO making you do stupid things when drinking?

I'm back after a refreshing holiday break, and back into trying to catch up on my reading. One thing I did read during the break though, which seemed appropriate in the aftermath of New Years Eve drinking, was this new paper by Benjamin Riordan, Jayde Flett, John Hunter, Damian Scarf, and Tamlin Conner (all University of Otago) on the relationship between Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) and drinking behaviour. Otago University put out a press release about the research at the end of November.

Essentially, the authors undertook two studies - one with a group of psychology students (Study 1) that was based on retrospective reporting of behaviour, and one with a more representative group (Study 2) that was based on a daily diary. They found that:
Overall, there was no relationship between FoMOs scores and weekly alcohol use or drinking frequency in either Study 1 or Study 2. There was also no relationship between FoMOs and average drinking session quantity in Study 1; however, there was a significant relationship between FoMOs scores and drinking session quantity in Study 2...
Moreover, in both studies, FoMOs was significantly associated with a higher number of negative alcohol-related consequences participants had experienced in the last three months.
In other words, people who rated higher on the FoMO scale (FoMOs) did not drink more, or drink more often. The significant effect on drinking session quantity for Study 2 is based on a correlation which doesn't control for any other variables so is pretty weak evidence. And yet, even though they didn't consumer more alcohol, people who rated higher on the FoMOs suffered more negative alcohol-related consequences.

One might rightly ask: "What is the mechanism that underlies this result?". Unfortunately, the study doesn't give any guidance on this, although the authors do speculate:
Firstly, given that FoMO is inherently social in its nature, it seems plausible that a higher drive for rewarding social experiences may lead those higher in FoMO to take more risks or engage in higher risk drinking activities in order to maximize socialization opportunities (e.g., playing drinking games, drinking in unfamiliar locations, etc.)...
And yet, those higher in FoMO somehow manage to engage in higher risk behaviour while drinking no more than people who are lower on the FoMO scale? That might be a stretch. What about:
Secondly, those higher in fear of missing out who are motivated by the need for rewarding social experiences may be more sensitive to social information, particularly cues to their social inclusion/exclusion and behaviors that could compromise their social position...
This seems more likely - that people who have higher FoMO are more likely to do stupid things when under the influence of alcohol, which they later regret. So, the takeaway message from this study is to watch out for your FoMO friends during the summer festival season!

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