Why Is TikTok So Addicting?

Renee Cargill, Guest Writer

On March 16, 2022, the fifth “ACAD Talks” took place. ACAD Talks is an event similar to the widely popular TED Talks where Athens Academy students give speeches on different topics of their choice. Seven amazing students gave fascinating and informative speeches on a wide variety of subjects from NFTs to Jane Austen characters. One talk in particular, presented by sophomore Anvesha Das, discussed why people can’t seem to get off of social media. 

Personally, I spend a whopping hour a day on TikTok while I only spend around 20 minutes on apps like Snapchat and Instagram. So I wonder, what makes TikTok so addicting?

Tubefilter, a site that covers news dealing with social media, states that people with Androids spend an average of 24.5 hours on TikTok compared to the 22 hours they spend on YouTube per month. The Search Engine Journal, a site that features articles written by online marketing experts, also reports that the time users spend on TikTok has drastically increased every year and is currently beating Facebook in user time. So I know I can’t be the only one scrolling constantly on Tik Tok. 

Part of TikTok’s attraction is chemical. 

“Dopamine increases every time you see something interesting,” Das says.

Dopamine is a chemical in your brain as well as a neurotransmitter. It influences your mood and decision-making and is associated with amusement and rewards. 

“Every time we need dopamine, we look at our phone. You want that hit of dopamine, you want that notification, the views or texts. We’re addicted to the dopamine hit,” Das explains. 

With TikTok, users are automatically viewing content that the algorithm specifically caters to them knowing that the user enjoys that type of media. Consequently, the user is constantly getting dopamine hits from watching these videos, so they keep scrolling. On other apps, like Youtube, people have to spend time finding new entertainment, meaning they don’t receive dopamine hits as quickly. 

However, TikTok’s popularity isn’t just due to dopamine. The app’s unique design also contributes to its addictiveness. 

Common Club, a newsletter dedicated to exploring different types of media, states, “Wasting screen space is a cardinal sin when it comes to keeping users in that ‘entertainment high.’” 

TikTok’s layout shows the video on the entire screen. On apps like Instagram, the comment section and captions are separate from the photo. This wasted space forces people to spend a few more seconds scrolling, and in those few seconds, users might realize they’ve been scrolling for too long. 

TikTok’s caption and comments icon are embedded in the video, so there’s no wasted space and nothing to distract people from the entertainment. The app’s automatic video feed stops the user from wasting time scrolling to find more videos. Without those vital seconds to think, “Maybe I’ve been on the app for too long,” users are already absorbed in another video without realizing how much time has passed. 

So is it possible to stop the addiction? Yes, but it’s not easy. One way to practice self-restraint is to reduce time on the app by a few minutes every day. This could mean putting your phone in another room when you sleep or going into your settings and putting limits on how much time you can spend on particular apps. With some hard work, you can beat this addiction. 

But for now, I think I’ll go scroll on TikTok…