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Four Facts About FOMO

FOMO is a relatively new psychological idea. Here's what we know about it.

JESHOOTS-com / Pixabay
Source: JESHOOTS-com / Pixabay

A decade ago, "fear of missing out," or "FOMO," was nothing more than a cute Facebook hashtag. Now, it's a well-studied and scientifically-verified psychological charateristic.

What is known about it so far? Here are four insights to help broaden your understanding of FOMO.

#1: How is FOMO defined?

The textbook definition of FOMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.”

#2: How is FOMO measured?

Want to know if you are high or low on FOMO? There are two scientific scales to guide you to an answer. First is the "original" FOMO scale. This was developed by Andrew Przybylski and his collaborators and published in 2013 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The scale consists of 10 statements for which respondents give themselves a rating of 1 ("not at all true of me") to 5 ("extremely true of me"). They are:

  1. I fear others have more rewarding experiences than me.
  2. I fear my friends have more rewarding experiences than me.
  3. I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me.
  4. I get anxious when I don’t know what my friends are up to.
  5. It is important that I understand my friends' "in-jokes."
  6. Sometimes, I wonder if I spend too much time keeping up with what is going on.
  7. It bothers me when I miss an opportunity to meet up with friends.
  8. When I have a good time, it is important for me to share the details online (e.g. updating status).
  9. When I miss out on a planned get-together, it bothers me.
  10. When I go on vacation, I continue to keep tabs on what my friends are doing.

There is also a single-question FOMO scale. This scale was developed by Benjamin Riordan and colleagues and reads: "Do you experience FOMO?" Participants respond on a scale of 1 (no, not true of me) to 5 (yes, extremely true of me). While the single-item scale lacks the depth of the original scale, it can be used to get a "quick-and-dirty" read on the extent to which someone exhibits FOMO.

#3: Who is most likely to experience FOMO?

Research on FOMO has repeatedly shown that young people experience more FOMO than older people. Why? Part of it might have to do with the way young people interact with technology and social media. (Recall that the term rose to prominence on social media.) It also might have to do with young people's desire to explore and experience all that life has to offer. Older people, because they have a wider set of experiences under their belt, may be less susceptible to FOMO.

Some research has shown men to be more susceptible to FOMO than women. However, other research has found the opposite. Future research is needed to understand the role gender plays in shaping the experience of FOMO.

#4: Generally speaking, FOMO is not a healthy experience.

While some might interpret FOMO to be a motivating psychological force, research has generally found FOMO to have a negative impact on both mood and life satisfaction. It also has been identified as a precursor to what researchers call "problematic smartphone use."

A 2019 study published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technology found that FOMO predicted the amount of time someone spent on their smartphone and strengthened the connection between depression, anxiety, and problematic smartphone use. Moreover, the researchers found the psychological trait of "boredom proneness" to predict the degree to which someone experienced FOMO.

Taken together, these results suggest that the excessive experience of FOMO is associated with numerous negative psychological traits and behaviors. And, if that's not enough, it has also been shown to predict unsafe driving behaviors such as texting and driving.