What specifically about scrolling Instagram Reels is so addictive?

Instagram rееlsthе latеst addition to thе еvеr-еxpanding world of social mеdia, has takеn thе intеrnеt by storm.  Short and snappy videos oftеn accompaniеd by catchy music  has quickly gainеd popularity among usеrs of all age groups. Well, what is it about thеsе rееls that makе thеm so addictivе?

Bound by reels [Photo Courtesy: Psychiatrist Jaipur/ google ]

Instagram Reels are addictive because of the way they tap into several facets of psychology that tend to keep people engaged. First is the principle of variable rewards, a prominent concept of behavioral psychology -- each reel reveals a new clip of footage that might be a funny science sketch or might be a moment of triumph. The human brain loves that kind of unpredictability. When you come across a particularly relatable or exciting reel, your brain releases a little hit of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine as a reward for scrolling. Then the little brain starts to anticipate the next time you get that great video, and every time you reach that high, you reinforce the potion — which keeps you coming back for that reliable cycle of anticipation and reward. 

Reels also take advantage of something called, social validation. When you get likes and comments on your videos, or when you interact with someone else’s videos, it can sometimes make you feel that you belong or are approved of. Positive social interactions online have been associated with a release of oxytocin in some situations, the hormone that makes you bond into a little unit with other people, and through the heavy usage of tapping to like, interacting on Reels at its best can feel good, like you belong to a close knit network of people who are in on a particular joke. If parts of your brain are constantly on the lookout for positive social reinforcement, that promise of connection is what will keep you coming back. So long, as you watch more reels, you keep liking, commenting, and sharing for validation. 

The design of Instagram Reels alone is pretty much purpose-built to maximize addictiveness based on a LONG list of psychological principles. The infinite scroll of one video seamlessly transitioned into the next allows your brain to get hooked on the principal story structure of operant conditioning, which dictates that a reward (in this case, a new video) is the result of some action (scrolling down the page). The whole reason you snap back to Reels as soon as you have a moment of mental downtime is that Instagram does not enable easy boredom. Starting and stopping a viewing session is entirely dependent on your ability to stop yourself. 

Autoplay is designed to eliminate moments of intention when users are not actively seeking more footage to watch. It is a testament to the strength of the addiction that you prefer to use your phone to fill every small moment of cognitive downtime rather than allow yourself to sit in your feelings for a moment. The duration of the average reel, a couple of seconds, is well-aligned with how people consume information today and how short their attention spans are. A series of very short videos alone is an undeniably easy entertainment delivery system; it is amazing how well we respond to how quickly we can get a goodie after how eagerly we have been trained to expect disappointment. 


Somashree Nandy


Garima Dhanania

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