These are the sneaky ways apps like Instagram, Facebook, Tinder lure you in and get you 'addicted'

These are the sneaky ways apps like Instagram, Facebook, Tinder lure you in and get you 'addicted'

How apps are addictive 2x1

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider


If you own a smartphone, you've likely experienced the feeling: you've got a few moments of downtime so you take out your phone to see what's new.

Maybe you feel an urge to see what your friends are up to, a need to connect to other people. Maybe you want to squeeze in an extra bit of reading or language-learning or mate-finding or game-playing.

Does this mean you are addicted to your smartphone? Not necessarily. There are technical definitions of addiction that don't apply to excessive smartphone use. And using apps on your smartphone is often just a form of wasting time. Before smartphones, you'd likely have wasted time some other way. In fact, Jonathan Kay, chief operating officer of app analytics firm Apptopia, has a term for it: "displaced time."

"I think what's happening is that people are displacing a lot of time that they would spend on TV and spending it on their phones," Kay told Business Insider. "It's not an added time - it's a displaced time from one medium to another."


But there are some key differences about spending our spare time using our phones, rather than other mediums. For one, they're full of content we've chosen for ourselves, rather than content that's chosen for us, like a sitcom on TV, and that can make our phones more enticing, Kay believes.

For another, app makers are using deliberate techniques to attract your attention. They aren't simply relying on you to come to them whenever you have downtime.

"I think people want to be sucked in," Kay said. "Then it becomes a game of who can be more clever at grabbing that attention."

And some app makers use techniques proven to be very successful at luring us in.

Thanks to input from app experts, research on the topic and our own app use, we've identified the tactics used by some of the most popular smartphone apps on the planet to grab your attention. Some of these techniques clearly serve no purpose other than to manipulate your behavior, whereas others are not necessarily insidious and are part of what make the product useful.


But they all have the common goal of reeling you in and holding your attention.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it highlights specific tactics used by specific apps across several categories. Take a look:

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