The way Instagram keeps you hooked

I once deleted Instagram from my smartphone in an attempt to minimalize the time wasted on social media. Over the next few days, I found myself instinctively opening my phone and scrolling to the place where the Instagram app icon used to be, only to realize that it was not actually there anymore. This opened my eyes to see how mindlessly I was always opening Instagram without actually really wanting to. A lot of people may recognize this, as it seems to be a common problem. How does Instagram keep you so hooked?

In the mobile app industry, the success of an app is often measured by the extent to which it introduces new habits to its users. When you manage to create an app that makes the user open it over and over again, it generates more money for the company. This is why it is not really surprising to see that apps are intentionally being designed to be addictive, it is just what works from a business point of view (Businessinsider).

The Fogg Behavior model

Because money is generated by the attention of the users, behavioral design is the core of the app development industry. To actually make the app change the users behavior, certain models for behavior are used, the Fogg behavior model being the most well-known. The Fogg behavior model tells us that there are three requirements for creating a habit: Motivation, an action, and a trigger.

The motivation in the case of Instagram can be one of two things. It can either be anticipation for expecting to see something nice or interesting, or it can be fear of missing something. Both can motivate you to open the app and start scrolling, which one it is mostly depends on the person and the situation.

The action is simply clicking the app icon in order to open the app. For forming a habit, it is very important that the action is very simple to perform and does not take much time. In the case of Instagram, the action satisfies both.

The trigger is a notification. This can both be in the form of your phone vibrating, hearing a notification sound, or simply a notification popping on screen. This triggers the motivation part of the cycle after which you are bound to take action by opening the app. If this cycle is repeated enough, a habit is formed. When a habit is formed, these actions can happen without thinking, like in my Instagram example (  


This behavior modification does not have to be something negative. There are a lot of apps out there that make you improve as person and help you in the daily life. App usage can however become a problem when you get actually addicted. Estimates suggest that almost 210 million people worldwide suffer from social media addiction, and this number is expected to be rising (Truelist). When addicted to social media, it has the same symptoms as any other addiction: Mood modification, withdrawal symptoms, impact on daily life, and relapse (Addictioncenter).  

Social media actually is addictive both physically and psychologically and should be handled with care (Addictioncenter). This is why I think that there should be regulations in order to force social media companies to make their apps less addictive, albeit against their financial motives.