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FoMO can trigger students to break the law

FoMO includes two processes; firstly, perception of missing out, followed up with a compulsive behavior to maintain these social connections.


FOMO text on the phone screen. Fear of missing out. Obsessive fear of missing an interesting event or good opportunity, provoked, among other things, by viewing social networks
(Pedal to the Stock via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Fear of missing out - known as FoMO - can trigger students to break the law, according to new research.

Two studies found an association between FoMO among university students and illicit acts - including taking illegal drugs and cheating in exams.

The term FoMO was introduced in 2004 to describe a phenomenon observed on social networking sites.

FoMO includes two processes; firstly, perception of missing out, followed up with a compulsive behavior to maintain these social connections.

Researchers say that the fear of missing out on rewarding and fun experiences is something that most people feel at some point in life.

They found that, among college students, the degree to which someone experiences FoMO is associated with their risk of participating in "maladaptive behaviors" including academic misconduct, drug and alcohol use, and even breaking the law.


"For many students, college is a major transition that can facilitate either psychological growth or maladaptive behaviors and psychological problems," said study lead author Paul McKee, of Southern Connecticut State University.

"Previous studies have found an association between FoMO and disruptive or harmful social media use.

"A greater understanding of how FoMO influences individual behavior is important to reducing FoMO’s negative influence."

For the study, 472 students completed a questionnaire assessing FoMO levels, unethical and illegal behavior while in college, and demographic variables.

The researchers analyzed the data both by using standard statistical approaches and by applying a supervised machine learning approach.

The team discovered associations between FoMO and nearly all the bad behaviors they examined.

Higher levels of FoMO were found to be correlated with higher rates of classroom incivility, plagiarism, greater weekly alcohol consumption, lower age when beginning drinking alcohol, as well as increased use of cannabis, stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens.

High FoMo levels were also linked with illegal activities including giving away drugs and stealing.

The machine learning algorithm found similar associations and highlighted the modifying effect of living situation, socio economic status and gender on several of the relationships.

The researchers suggest that brief FoMO assessments, including just 10 questions, may be "valuable risk prediction tools" for counselors focused on assisting students in the transition to college or university.

"Using FoMO and demographic information, we were able to predict class membership of college students across multiple domains - alcohol and drug use, academic misconduct, illegal behavior - well above baseline," said McKee, a former US Marine who is now a psychology PhD student at Southern CT.

"These results suggest that FoMO exists not just as an aversive phenomenon, but it also leads to concrete consequences for individuals and society.”

The findings were published in the journal PLoS One.

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