Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Fear of missing out

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Fear of missing out:
What is FOMO and how does it affect us?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Buzzfeed'sDefinition of FOMO

The word “FOMO” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. According to Przybylski and colleagues, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, and is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing” (2013). JWT Intelligence described FOMO as “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you” (2011). These definitions of FOMO differ slightly, but they both have one thing in common: people who experience FOMO may report various negative feelings when lacking contact with others and knowing what they're doing (Hato, 2013).

How often exactly do you check your phone for messages? Or log onto your Social Media Account (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc)? How do you feel when you see your friends checking into that new cocktail bar in town, or posting Instagram photos of their sandy feet with the ocean in the background? When your phone plan is about to expire do you feel the urge to wait another three months for the newest iPhone to be released instead of upgrading now? Experiencing FOMO means we're stuck in a constant limbo of not enjoying what we're currently doing because we feel like there's always something more exciting or fun out there. The rise of smartphones with internet access and constant connections to social media (there are currently 184.2 million smart phone users in the United States, 56% of the entire population) has of course been a main contributor to us constantly being switched on, logged in, and able to see exactly what we're missing out on (Worldometers, 2015; The Statistics Portal, 2015).

Do you have a fear of missing out?[edit | edit source]

Although the terminology has only recently been added to our lexicon, experiencing FOMO is nothing new. Consider the statements below. Do any of these resemble you? You may experience some more frequently than others; all of them, however, are signs that you are suffering from FOMO.

1 I check social media in the morning within an hour of waking up.


2 I keep my phone switched on overnight so I don't miss any important calls/messages.


3 When I have a good time it is important for me to share the details on social media.


4 I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me.


5 If I double book myself on a Saturday night I will try to attend both events.


6 It bothers me if I miss an opportunity to spend time with friends.


How many statements did you agree with? A higher level of agreement may indicate you experience the phenomenon of FOMO more than you thought!

FOMO from a theoretical perspective[edit | edit source]

Due to its infancy, relatively little research has been conducted on the phenomenon of FOMO. It can be connected to a number of psychological and socio-psychological theories however, as outlined below.

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory is a learning theory. It formed from the idea that individuals learn by observing others, and those learned behaviours can be hugely influential on one's personality. While social psychologists agree a major contributor to ones behaviour is the environment they grow up in, the individual themselves, and their cognition, are just as important. The environment, behaviour and cognition are all chief factors in influencing development, making up a 'reciprocal triadic relationship'.

The core concepts of this theory can be explained by Bandura's schematization of triadic reciprocal causation (2002). The schema shows how the reproduction of an observed behaviour is influenced by the interaction of the following three determinants:

  1. Personal: Whether the individual has high or low self-efficacy toward the behaviour
  2. Behavioural: The response an individual receives after they perform a behavior (eg. how many 'likes' is their Facebook status or Instagram photo receiving?)
  3. Environmental: Aspects of the environment or setting that influence the individual’s ability to successfully complete a behaviour (eg. having access to ones smart phone and the internet at all times)
Self-Determination Theory
A diagram depicting the three elements of Self-Determination Theory.

The Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of human motivation and personality. It examines the motivation behind the choices that people make without any external influence and interference. Thus, SDT explores behavior that is self-motivated and self-determined (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Research on the Self-Determination theory evolved from studies exploring intrinsic and extrinsic motives throughout the 1970s, however SDT was not formally introduced and accepted as a sound empirical theory until the mid-1980s (Lepper, Greene & Nisbett, 1973).

SDT contends that there are three basic psychological needs that must be satisfied to foster well-being and health in individuals: competence, relatedness and autonomy. There are three essential elements of the theory, according to Deci and Vensteenkiste (2004):

  1. Humans are inherently proactive with their potential and mastering their inner forces (such as drives and emotions).
  2. Humans have inherent tendency toward growth development and integrated functioning.
  3. Optimal development and actions are inherent in humans but they don’t happen automatically.

In their research on FOMO and SDT, Przybylski and colleagues [when?] assert that low levels of satisfaction in these basic psychological needs may relate to FOMO in two ways. The relationship could be direct, in that individuals that are low in basic need satisfaction may increase their use in social media because it is perceived as a resource to get in touch with others, a tool to develop social competence, and an opportunity to deepen social ties. The link between basic needs and engagement in social media could also be indirect; fear of missing out could serve only as a mediator linking deficits in psychological needs to social media engagement. That is, these deficits may simply lead some towards a general sensitivity to FOMO (2013).

Uses and Gratification Theory

The Uses and Gratification theory is a socio-psychological theory, and is positivistic in its approach. It explores on communication at the mass media scale (West & Turner, 2007). The Uses and Gratifications Theory examines why and how people actively seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs. While other theories seek to understand what media does to people, the Uses and Gratification Theory (UGT) asks 'what do people do with media?'. UGT explores how and why users intentionally select media that will satisfy specific needs and allow them to enhance "knowledge, relaxation, social interactions/companionship, diversion, or escape" (Severin & Tankard, 2000; McQuail, 2010; Education Ithink, 2010).

According to UGT, people will utilise social media to fulfill specific needs such as socialisation and acquirement of information. For an individual experiencing FOMO, using social media could be attractive as it serves as a cheap and easy way to be connected to other people (Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe, 2007). However, the individual will end up with increased feelings of loneliness, isolation and FOMO due to the fact that social media can never completely substitute face-to-face contact (Dossey, 2014).

Research conducted by Raacke & Bonds-Raacke has found that socialisation motivates use of friend-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook (2008). They defined variables under the umbrella term of socialisation as "finding old friends, making new friends, learning about events, creating social functions, and feeling connected". Some further exploration has demonstrated that although emotional, cognitive, social, and habitual uses are motivational to use social media, not all uses are consistently gratified (Wang, Tchernev & Solloway, 2012).

In research examining Facebook groups' users' gratifications, Park and colleagues asked 1,715 college students "to rate their level of agreement with specific reasons for using Facebook groups, including information acquisition about campus/community, entertainment/recreation, social interaction with friends and family, and peer pressure/self satisfaction" (Park, Kee & Valenzuela, 2009). Results of this study defined four distinct needs for using Facebook groups:

  • Socializing: Students were interested in talking and meeting with others to achieve a sense of community and peer support on the particular topic of the group.
  • Entertainment: Students engaged with the groups to amuse themselves.
  • Self-Seeking: Students sought out or maintained their personal status, as well as those of their friends, through the online group participation.
  • Information: Students used the group to receive information about related events going on and off campus.

Current research[edit | edit source]

It has only been very recently that the concept of FOMO has drawn the attention of scholars. To date, there are only three studies that have further investigated the indicators of FOMO and its relationship with social media usage.

Fear of missing out: JWT intelligence[edit | edit source]

In 2011, JWT Intelligence gathered quantitative and qualitative data on social media use to produce an extensive trend report. It was claimed that with the exponential growth of mobile devices, the prevalence of FOMO has increased, which in turn has lead to an increase of societal awareness of the phenomenon. They found in their research that people feel the need to check their mobile phone on a regular basis to decrease the negative feelings associated with the fear of missing out. Individuals between the age of 13 and 33 years old are most at risk of experiencing FOMO. When surveying a group of students, they found that more than half of participants reported they "could not stand the idea of missing out". It was also found that 65% of those respondents reported that they felt especially left out when they were aware (through social media use) that their friends were doing something or having fun without them (JWT Intelligence, 2011).

Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out: Przybylski et al[edit | edit source]

Further research conducted by Przybylski and colleagues (2013) built on the initial evidence explored by JWT Intelligence and conducted three more studies about the characteristics of FOMO. They developed a 10-item scale, the Fear of Missing Out Scale (or FOMOs), investigated demographical features and the Self Determination Theory, and explored behavioural correlates of FOMO.

Study 1[edit | edit source]

For their first study, they used data collected from a large international sample of participants (N = 1013, ages ranging from 18 to 62 years old), to create a robust individual difference measure of FOMO. Przybylski and colleagues used prior research by JWT Intelligence (2011) to draft a pool of statements that reflected the phenomenon of FOMO, then using a data driven approach to select items with the best psychometric properties. The aim of this first study, as stated by the authors, was "to create a sensitive self-report instrument, one that is informative for individuals with low, medium and high latent levels of fear of missing out, and one that is useful for measuring FOMO in a wide range of research contexts" (Przybylski et al, 2013). After starting with 32 items on their FOMO survey they used a maximum likelihood estimation method to reduce these items down to 25, then by using an Item Response Theory (IRT; DeAyala, 2009) approach with PARSCALE (Muraki & Bock, 1998), researchers reduced items down to a succinct 10-item scale named the Fear of Missing Out Scale (FOMOs), which was brief and sensitive to anyone that displayed low, moderate or high levels of FOMO as an individual difference. This final 10-item scale is included below for you to try.

Study 2[edit | edit source]

Przybylski and colleagues conducted a second study [when?] with the purpose of exploring how FOMO fits into a range of demographic and individual difference factors, link to engagement with social media. They had a larger sample than the first study, this time 2079 participants (ranging from 22 to 65 years old) responding to an online questionnaire. Their first aim in this study was to investigate demographic variability in FOMO and explore who in the general population was more prone to the fear of missing out. Their second aim was to evaluate FOMO as a mediating factor against the back-drop of the Self Determination Theory. Interestingly, it was found that males are more likely to experience FOMO, and that the FOMO phenomenon is more likely to be grappled with by younger people. In regards to the Self Determination Theory, it was found that respondents who evidenced lower satisfaction in the basic psychological needs for competence (efficacy), autonomy (meaningful choice) and relatedness (connectedness to others) also reported higher levels of FOMO. Przybylski et al suggest that low levels of psychological need satisfaction may constitute a risk factor for fear of missing out. Importantly, this study also explored links between FOMO and social media use. Researchers discovered that reported low levels of need satisfaction, general mood and overall life satisfaction related to seeking out social media engagement, as well as higher overall levels of FOMO. Therefore, FOMO plays a larger role in explaining social media engagement than all other factors considered by researchers.

Study 3[edit | edit source]

In their third study, Przybylski [when?] explored specific behavioural correlates of FOMO in young adults. In particular, they focused on how fear of missing out would related to overall levels and feelings about Facebook use, using social media during university lectures, and links to distracted driving. As hypothesised, results showed that participants who reported higher levels of FOMO would use Facebook more often immediately after waking, before going to sleep, and during meals. Additionally, students high in FOMO were more likely to use Facebook during university lectures. Lastly, participants high in FOMO were more likely to give in to the temptation of composing and checking text messages and email while driving.

Mobile phone checking out of a fear of missing out: Beata Hato[edit | edit source]

Building on the work done by Przybylski and colleagues, Dutch Masters student Beata Hato conducted further studies and wrote the 2013 paper: (Compulsive) Mobile Phone Checking Behavior Out of a Fear of Missing Out: Development, Psychometric Properties and Test-Retest Reliability of a C-FoMO-Scale. Their assumption was that not only social use can account for checking our mobile phone out of a FOMO, but other aspects as well. Reviewing the FOMO Scale constructed by Przybylski and colleagues, Hato sought to develop a second scale to assess to what extent people check their mobile phone out of FOMO in five conceptual domains (General, Social, Safety, News and Work/School). This scale is called the C-FOMO.

  • C-FOMO-General

This domain consists of the general fear that the lack of mobile phone could cause.

  • C-FOMO-Social

The Social domain concerns the essential need to have knowledge on all the current happenings and events that occur in one's social environment concerning friend related activities.

  • C-FOMO-Safety

The Safety (or security) domain concerns the importance of being available for friends and family members.

  • C-FOMO-News

This domain involves the need for being up-to-date with current events and the latest headlines regarding everyday life.

  • C-FOMO-Work/School

The Work and School-related domain concerns the importance of contact with one's school and/or workplace.

Upon analysis of responses, a significantly positive relationship was found between smartphone engagement and the C-FOMO Scale. 84% of those who agreed or strongly agreed to regularly check their mobile phone out of a fear of missing out, said that they had used their phones within 15 minutes before going to bed every day the previous week. 78% of these respondents reported that they had used their mobile phones within fifteen minutes after they woke up every day and 63% of these people reported that they had used their mobile phones while watching TV every day of the previous week. When investigating each individual domain, correlation analysis revealed that C-FOMO-News and C-FOMO-Work/School were significantly related to the frequency of mobile phone checking behavior. Hato also found a significant positive relationship between the C-FOMO Scale and Przybylski's original FOMO Scale.

Przybylski's FOMO scale questionnaire[edit | edit source]

The following questionnaire contains the same statements used by Przybylski and colleagues (2013) to explore the prevalence of FOMO among participants. There is no correct or incorrect answer, so for the sake of simply demonstrating the questionnaire all answers will be considered 'correct'. Please use this questionnaire as an opportunity to reflect on your own experiences, similarly to the quiz above.

Below is a collection of statements about your everyday experience. Using the scale provided please indicate how true each statement is of your general experience. Please answer according to what really reflects your experiences rather than what you think your experiences should be. Please treat each item separately from every other item.

Not at all true of me Slightly true of me Moderately true of me Very true of me Extremely true of me
I fear others have more rewarding experiences than me.
I fear my friends have more rewarding experiences than me.
I get worried when I find out what my friends are up to.
It is important that I understand my friends "in jokes".
Sometimes, I wonder if I spend too much time keeping up with what is going on.
It bothers me when I miss an opportunity to meet up with friends.
When I have a good time it is important for me to share the details online (eg. updating status).
When I miss out on a planned get-together it bothers me.
When I go on vacation, I continue to keep tabs on what my friends are doing.

Brands leveraging FOMO[edit | edit source]

Marketers have always warned consumers not to miss out on products and deals; now brands are increasingly tapping into anxiety over missing out on experiences and the inability to do everything and be everywhere. These marketing campaigns are inducing the fear of missing out in consumers, as well as positioning products as tools for preventing FOMO and keeping up with the fast pace of life.

  • Smirnoff, Be There: Launched in 2009, this campaign relied on the heightened appeal of FOMO inducing, “you had to be there” experiences.
  • AT&T, Don’t be left behind: U.S. mobile provider AT&T advertised “the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network” and 4G services as a means of ensuring customers never miss out.
  • Duracell Powermat, Stay in Charge: Using a more direct approach, this advertisement interviewed four sufferers of FOMO and a doctor about the phenomenon before introducing the product as a cure.

Preventing and curing FOMO[edit | edit source]

The best way to approach preventing and even curing FOMO is to be aware that the phenomenon is ultimately psychological. As mentioned by Otis, there are three important steps one can take to reduce and ultimately overcome FOMO (2014).

  1. No one's life is THAT glamorous. Be aware that not everything you see online is realistic. Whether the images were created by individuals (Facebook posts, Instagram photos) or by professionals (commercials, reality shows, Web sites), they tend to capture moments of artificial jollity. No one's life is constantly fun and adventurous. These snapshots posted on social media are short moments in their otherwise average day.
  2. Put things into perspective. Whilst you may not be at a fabulous party this very moment, this may be for good reason. Recognise that if you're at home working on assignments tonight, it's probably because you want to have free time to socialise later.
  3. Be grateful for what you do have. Everyone has something they can look forward to and be grateful for. Stop thinking about what you don't have and account for everything you DO have.

Just as it is beneficial to take breaks from unhealthy foods or other adverse behaviours, in the case of FOMO it may be helpful to go on a digital detox. Taking a break from mobile phones, internet, social media, or all of the above may have a cleansing effect and reduce the feelings of FOMO in an individual.

The use of the word 'fear' in the term fear of missing out may elude to stronger negative feelings in some individuals; if someone is suffering from legitimate fear or anxiety there are a number of treatments that can be considered:

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Fear of Missing Out (or FOMO) is a relatively new topic in the world of scholars, although it's been around as long as we have. With the exponential increase of smart phones in the world and how many of us are constantly connected to social media, it's little wonder that we may feel worried about being everywhere and doing everything at once. Several socio-psychological theories can provide explanation and background for the phenomenon of FOMO. Social media has been widely regarded as a quick relief from FOMO but also a catalyst. It is easy to get stuck in a cycle of checking one's mobile phone for updates and feeling increasingly left out upon seeing all the fun things everyone else is doing. Many brands have snatched up the concept of FOMO for their marketing campaigns, advertising their products as cures. As the concept of FOMO becomes more familiar, directions for further research include methods for treatment or prevention.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & Ben-Artzi, E. (2003). Loneliness and internet use, Computers in Human Behavior 19 (1): pp. 71–80.

Billieux, J. (2012). Problematic Use of the Mobile Phone: A Literature Review and a Pathways Model. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, pp. 1-9.

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (Eds.), (2002). Handbook of self-determination research, Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

DeAyala, R. J.(2009). The theory and practice of item response theory. New York: Guilford Press.

Dossey, L. (2014) FOMO, digital dementia, and our dangerous experiment., Explore Journal of Science and Healing 10 (2): pp. 69–73.

Education Ithink. (2010). What Can Uses and Gratifications Theory Tell Us About Social Media? Retrieved September 23, from

Ellison, N.B., Steinfield, C.,& Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook ‘‘friends’’: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12 (4): pp. 1143–1168.

Hato, B. (2013). (Compulsive) Mobile Phone Checking Behaviour Out of a Fear of Missing Out: Development, Psychometric Properties and Test-Retest Reliability of a C-FoMO-Scale. Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Hassanzadeh, R.& Rezaei, A. (2011). Effect of sex, course and age on SMS addiction in students. Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 10 (5), pp. 619-625.

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JWT Intelligence, (2011). Fear of Missing Out. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from

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Lepper, M. K., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the "overjustification" hypothesis, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, pp. 129–137.

McQuail, D. (2010). Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications. pp. 420–430.

Muraki,E. & Bock, R.D.(1998). PARSCALE (version3.5): Parameter scaling of rating data. Chicago, IL: Scientific Software, Inc.

Otis, T., (2014). A Cure for FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), Linked In, retrieved from

Park, N., Kee, K. F., & Valenzuela, S. (2009). Being immersed in social networking environment: Facebook groups, uses and gratifications, and social outcomes, CyberPsychology & Behavior 12 (6): pp. 729–733.

Przybylski, A.K, Murayama, K., DeHaan, C.R.& Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (4), 1841–1848.

Raacke, J. & Bonds-Raacke, J., (2008). MySpace and Facebook: Applying the Uses and Gratifications Theory to Exploring Friend-Networking Sites. CyberPsychology & Behavior 11 (2): pp. 169–174.

Severin, W. & Tankard Jr., J. (1997). Communication theories: Origins, methods, and uses in the mass media. Longman.

Severin, W. & Tankard Jr., J. (2000). "2: New Media Theory". Communication Theories: Origins, Methods and Uses in the Mass Media. Addison Wesley Longman.

The Statistics Portal, (2015). Number of smartphone users in the United States from 2010 to 2018 (in millions), retrieved on September 23, 2015, from

Wang, Z., Tchernev, J. & Solloway, T., (2012). A Dynamic Longitudinal Examination of Social Media Use, Needs, and Gratifications Among College Students. Computers in Human Behavior 28 (5): pp. 1829–1839.

West, R. & Turner, L. (2007). Introducing Communication Theory. McGraw Hill. pp. 392–409. Worldometers, (2015). US Population (Live), retrieved on September 23, 2015, from

External links[edit | edit source]