Why Is TikTok Addictive // Popularity of TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts

We’ve all been there. You open TikTok or — now — Instagram reels, or even Youtube shorts. You’ve watched a few videos and then suddenly it’s 6p.m and you’re a year older. Where did the time go? Why is it so addictive and why does it have what I call a scrollability factor? 

Let’s talk about it. The first thing to know is that TikTok, Instagram reels, and Youtube shorts are all set to autoplay. When you open the TikTok app a video automatically starts playing and it loops again and again until you decide to scroll on, and it’s the same with Instagram reels. On Youtube shorts, the app automatically scrolls to the next video for you, so you don’t even need to touch your phone. It’s very easy to get caught up in each app’s ecosystem whether you actually choose to or not. How long do you think that you are spending on these apps? Leave a comment down below because, personally, I know that I spend way too long, especially after this year.  

The second reason is the algorithms on these apps are so so smart. They know exactly what type of content you enjoy watching, which content you watch for the longest, which content you engage with and they keep sending personalized recommendations based on that, meaning that you’re more likely to spend longer on the app. However, these recommendations aren’t always a hundred percent accurate. As new videos are created, they will test these videos with new audiences and send them perhaps to you, which brings me on to my third and main point about intermittent reinforcement or random reinforcement.

In behavioral psychology, intermittent reinforcement is when you receive a reward at random intervals, you don’t know when the reward is coming but you know that it will come at some point. It’s kind of like you win some, you lose some. When you’re scrolling on these apps, sometimes you’ll see a video that you don’t like, but the chances are you don’t exit the app and put your phone down. You will most likely end up scrolling on hoping for another video that will satisfy your needs and give you that dopamine hit. This exact same concept is what makes gambling so addictive. Scrolling on an app, scrolling on TikTok is pretty much the same as putting money into a slot machine in a casino and hoping that you will get a big payoff and your dopamine levels will skyrocket.

These three points working together make TikTok, Instagram reels, and Youtube shorts highly addictive. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. The average user of TikTok spends almost an hour a day on the app, mindlessly scrolling, hoping to get that dopamine hit and continue with their lives.


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