The first day mad rush during the launch of the latest iPhone, the never-ending queues during the release of the last edition of the Harry Potter series.
And the ever-increasing volumes of online ads announcing the newest and the best, complete with the countdown timers are driven by a ‘pervasive apprehension’ of the self; that others might have a more rewarding experience while not being a part of that activity. Sounds familiar, right?
All the office parties which you gave a miss to work those extra hours or those anxious minutes spent looking at the blank screen when your phone was in a rut, and the numerous instances grave and trivial, which often made you believe and compare your life with others. Are all associated with Fear of Missing Out or FOMO?
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History and Research
The first person who brought to light this psychological process was surprisingly a Marketing strategist Dr Dan Herman, in the year 2000. It took more than four years for him to publish his studies. The term FOMO made its first appearance in the end-op article of Patrick J.
McGinnis that was published in the Harvard Business School magazine ‘The Harbus’, in 2004; another article published in the same year in the same magazine by Mr Joseph Reagle also mentioned FOMO.
It has since become a hot topic for social and behavioural scientists, psychologists, and marketing strategists, who have carried out numerous social experiments trying to delve deeper into the phenomenon.
As with most psychological sensations, FOMO, too, has been associated with various established theories. For example, some researchers associate it with Self Determination Theory that advocates that psychological satisfaction is determined by Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.
While others relate it to situational or long term deficits in psychological needs satisfaction. On a more straightforward note, we can easily understand the science behind FOMO, if we consider the factors that have attributed to the rise of this pervasive apprehension in today’s society.
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Let’s Delve Deeper into the Fear
To understand the why’s and how’s of this pervasive anxiety that affects our mental, emotional and wellbeing, we must know the factors that contribute to the development of this phenomenon.
The Fear of Regret
The Fear of Regret is closely related to the Fear of missing out. The former is the concern related to the apprehensions and anxiety associated with any decision which might result in missing out a rewarding opportunity.
The decision, once made, can cause the individual to ‘dream’ about the situations that could have been different, which in turn affects the overall happiness and mental health.
The condition wherein an individual decides to miss the office party to log in those extra hours and regrets the decision, best highlights the above relation.
A recent study conducted on Millennial in the US and UK found that the majority of the respondents never wanted to decline an offer or invitation, for they did not want to regret ‘missing out.’ While 50% of the respondents admitted to having never pursued new interests or follow a specific topic.
Note that most of the respondents are in the age group of 18-34 years and are tech-savvy. They extensively use mobile phones and the internet to stay connected. They have a virtual social presence and are addicted to social media sites.
The dependence on social media sites alienates the individual from the physical world and often leads to unhealthy digital habits, often presenting a distorted picture of the self. The excessive dependency on social media sites to express and share is attributed to the level of extraversion and neuroticism.
While extroverts grow dependent on gaining psychological satisfaction, neurotic individuals seek validation and approval. This need for subjective satisfaction often determines the lifestyle of the individual.
Social Media Boon or a Bane?
According to recent surveys, 56% of all social media users experience FOMO, while 69% of millennials experience FOMO every day. The extensive use of social media sites and the easy availability of a slice of the lives of the peers and colleagues invariably draw one to comparisons, which might negatively impact one’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
Researches have pointed out that social media dependence hampers learning, adversely affects tasks that need focus and attention in addition to attributing to the growth of negative emotions like fear, frustration, anxiety, envy, and anger.
The media uploads by the users, sharing their good times within their network of friends and family might be encouraging, but can also have its negative impact. Results revealed seven out of ten teenagers often experienced FOMO.
Let’s Cash on FOMO
The catchy print ad urging you to grab the weekend discount, or the ticking stopwatch announcing the number of hours left for the close of the mid-year sale, might seem harmless, but are they? Studies have revealed that the use of phrases like ‘limited time,’ ‘hurry,’ or the more direct ‘don’t miss out,’ makes a strong and lasting impression.
The personalized ads on the mobile and computer screens, the media hype, and the social pressures related to the consumption of goods are considered influential factors are elevating anxiety levels and lowering psychological satisfaction.
Highlighted by the fact that even after making a worthy purchase, the ad for the upgraded or the elusive version, still makes it to the home screen.
On a Brighter Note
According to researchers, FOMO is inversely proportional to age. While most adults will agree that puberty and teen ages have their anxious moments and subside with age, so can FOMO.
Unlike women, 40% of men are more likely to express their Fear of missing out. This pervasive anxiety can be channelized to set and attain individual goals and to improve self-perception.
While staying back to the log in those extra working hours, shifting your focus and attention to the task at hand, instead of being anxious about the good times which your colleagues might be having, can be the best way to overcome FOMO and being productive.
FOMO is inescapable but can be controlled and won.