The Psychology Behind the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)

The Psychology Behind the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)


Fear of missing out (FoMO) is a term that first appeared in 2004 on social media. It is commonly used to describe the perception of missing out on social events, experiences, or opportunities. Often fueled by the fear that others are enjoying something meaningful without one’s presence. The psychology behind FoMO is deeply rooted in social comparison, insecurity, and the constant stream of content that social media has made abundant. The fear stems from a desire for social connection, validation and the pursuit of an idealised lifestyle, leading individuals to feel anxious, isolated or dissatisfied when they perceive themselves as missing out on the excitement or success others are seemingly enjoying.

Understanding the intricacies of social anxiety is a crucial stage in developing strategies to navigate and mitigate the impact of the emotions they cause us in an increasingly interconnected and socially driven world. This knowledge, whether it’s gained through psychology courses online or private research in your own time, empowers individuals to break the cycle of discontent, isolation, and the persistent yearning for social validation that often accompanies the fear of missing out, fostering a healthier relationship with both social media and real-world interpersonal connections.

FoMO has only become possible because of our society’s new-found connection to one another through social media. As of January 2024, 5.04 billion of the world’s 8 billion people use social media. This astounding level of connection has driven us to pay attention to what others are doing more than ever before.

At its root, FoMO is a form of social anxiety. People feel anxious that something might happen when they are not there to take part in it. We generally experience both FoMO and social anxiety. The anxiety itself stems from fears of not fitting in and fear of rejection. FoMO centres around the fear of not living life to the fullest and missing out on enjoyable events. Individuals also grapple with jealousy, feeling that others’ happiness is linked to experiences they now lack.

The psychology of social anxiety delves into the intricate web of thoughts and emotions that underpin an individual’s fear of not fitting in and the dread of potential rejection. Social anxiety often originates from a heightened sensitivity to social comparison and a deep-seated insecurity about one’s social standing.

Individuals experiencing social anxiety may perceive themselves as lacking social skills or fear judgment from others, leading to a constant state of apprehension in social situations. The fear of missing out can be viewed as a manifestation of social anxiety, as it amplifies the concerns about not being present for significant social events. The pervasive nature of social media exacerbates these anxieties by providing a continuous stream of social comparisons and curated depictions of the lives of others.

We have all had a moment at work on a Monday morning, scrolling Instagram in the bathroom and wondering why we are where we are, kicking ourselves for the perceived choices that have led us to be here instead of there, these constant updates about others’ lives exacerbates uncertainties about our own life choices. This contributes to heightened feelings of social inferiority, loneliness or even intense rage. The process of perceiving missed experiences drives one to engage in compulsive behaviours to maintain social connections. FoMO is intricately tied to problematic social media attachment or addiction.

The increase in FoMO has prompted extensive research to unravel its impact on mental health, especially that of young people. Investigations are underway to identify vulnerable populations and understand the reward pathways reinforcing its effects, particularly the activation of dopaminergic tracts associated with successful social connections.

As individuals navigate the constant overload of curated content on social media, the fear of missing out intensifies, contributing to heightened feelings of social inferiority, loneliness, and even intense frustration. The process of perceiving missed experiences propels individuals into compulsive behaviours, often leading to problematic social media attachments or addiction.

This pervasive fear of missing out on shared experiences triggers a profound emotional response, compelling individuals to seek constant validation through more digital engagement. This behavioural pattern often leads to problematic social media attachments or, in extreme cases, full-blown addiction, as individuals strive to bridge the perceived gap between their own lives and the seemingly enriching experiences of others.

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