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Digital Addiction

SIEPR
Jun 2021
Working Paper
21-037
By  Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow, Lena Song
Many have argued that digital technologies such as smartphones and social media are addictive. We develop an economic model of digital addiction and estimate it using a randomized experiment. Temporary incentives to reduce social media use have persistent effects, suggesting social media are habit forming. Allowing people to set limits on their future screen time substantially reduces use, suggesting self-control problems. Additional evidence suggests people are inattentive to habit formation and partially unaware of self control problems. Looking at these facts through the lens of our model suggests that self-control problems cause 31 percent of social media use.
Publication Keywords: 
Habit formation
projection bias
self-control
temptation
naivete
commitment devices
randomized experiments
Social media