New research indicates that the fear of missing out (FoMO) is associated with the desire to strive for status, competing with same-sex others for romantic partners, and short-term mating. The findings, published in Current Research in Behavioral Sciences, provide a basis for exploring how evolutionary factors might play a role in shaping individual differences in FoMO — or the feeling that you might be missing out on exciting social experiences.
“We were interested in the topic of FoMO because it has been so embedded in popular culture since the concept grew in popularity around 2010,” said lead author Adam C. Davis, a professor at Canadore College.
“There has been quite a bit of clinically-oriented work looking at the links between problematic internet and social media usage, negative mental health symptoms, and FoMO. But, to our surprise, researchers had yet to approach the concept of FoMO and scientifically study the phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective.
“Certainly, the internet and social media are recent inventions,” Davis told PsyPost. “However, anxiety over missing out on important social opportunities is unlikely to be a new cultural phenomenon. Humans are an ‘ultra-social species’ who express a fundamental need to belong. Researchers have yet to find a culture where social inclusion does not matter.”
“Social events, like lunchtime at work, going shopping, attending parties, extracurricular activities (e.g., team sports), coming-of- age ceremonies, and weddings are where we catch-up, exchange gossip, extend our social networks, and solidify bonds with friends and family, as well as meet potential sexual and romantic partners. Therefore, it is probable that FoMO extends deep into our evolutionary past because failing to partake in these social activities and functions can have important implications for survival and reproductive success.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 327 heterosexual American adults between the ages of 19 to 60 years old through an online platform called Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The participants answered questions about their FoMO, their desire for high social status, their mating competitiveness with people of the same gender (intrasexual competition), their interest in short-term relationships (sociosexuality), and the social support they received from others.
The study found that people who experienced higher levels of FoMO tended to have a stronger desire for high social status and were more competitive with others of the same gender. They also tended to be more interested in short-term relationships. However, FoMO was not related to the amount of social support that people received from others. In other words, people who experience FoMO are not necessarily less likely to receive support from their friends and family.
“We proposed the idea that FoMO may be adaptive: it can alert people to missing out on important and relevant social events,” Davis explained. “Missing out on these activities could impair our ability to stay connected and maintain bonds with friends and family members, forge new alliances, exchange gossip, and meet, as well as pursue, dating and romantic partners. FoMO is both a context-specific reaction (e.g., seeing pictures of friends at a party that you decided not to attend), but also an individual trait that some people are higher in than others.”
“We speculated that people higher in FoMO might compete more fiercely for important social (e.g., status) and reproductive resources (e.g., sex partners) to avoid missing out on these opportunities. We found evidence in favour of this hypothesis: a greater expression of FoMO was associated with striving for status, competing with same-sex others by promoting one’s positive characteristics (e.g., attractiveness) and derogating rivals, and a stronger desire to seek out short-term sexual opportunities among American adults.”
Interestingly, the study found that the relationship between FoMO and social support was different for men and women. Women who reported higher levels of FoMO also reported receiving less social support from others. However, this relationship was not observed in men.
“Because females form ‘tighter’ friendships with a smaller number of people that they more often disclose personal details with in comparison to males, we further hypothesized that there might be a sex difference when it comes to FoMO and perceptions of social support,” Davis told PsyPost. “This hypothesis was supported: females, but not males, higher in FoMO were more likely to report that they were receiving less social support.”
Surprisingly, while FoMO was associated with actually engaging in more short-term sexual encounters and desiring them, it was not related to whether someone believes that these kinds of relationships are morally acceptable or desirable.
“We hypothesized that higher levels of FoMO would correlate with desires, attitudes, and behaviours in line with short-term mating tendencies,” Davis said. “This was true for desires (e.g., fantasizing more often about short-term sex) and behaviour (e.g., having more past sexual partners), but not for attitudes. This suggests that those higher in FoMO are more interested in short-term casual sexual opportunities, but that they do not have strong beliefs about the morality of sex in the absence or presence of love and intimacy.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“Our findings are correlational and pertain to American adults,” Davis told PsyPost. “Therefore, we cannot make any causal arguments about these variables (e.g., a greater expression of FoMO causes higher levels of competition for social and reproductive resources), and it is challenging to say how representative our findings are. This last point is particularly important, because we are using evolutionary rationale to guide our thinking. So we need to examine the relationships between these variables in cultures outside of the United States. This is what we would like to do next.”
“It is important to emphasize that just because we are arguing that FoMO might be adaptive, this does not mean that we think it is morally ‘good’ or beneficial for our mental health and well- being,” Davis added. “The concept of ‘adaptation’ is commonly misconstrued in this way. For something to be adaptive, we consider its cross-cultural and historical ubiquity and its capacity to solve problems that impact survival and reproductive success.”
The study, “The links between fear of missing out, status-seeking, intrasexual competition, sociosexuality, and social support“, was authored by Adam C. Davis, Graham Albert, and Steven Arnocky