What Is… FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

The Psychology of FOMO: Fear of missing out - image of people sitting together but focused on their phones

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week’s term is fear of missing out (FOMO).

Fear of missing out, more commonly known as FOMO, is a form of social anxiety (although not a social anxiety disorder). It involves a pervasive apprehension that others might be engaging in rewarding activities that you could miss out on.

The concept of FOMO isn’t a brand new thing. For example, feeling that you’re missing out because you’re the only one of your friends who’s single is a variation of FOMO, and it’s nothing new. Keeping up with the Joneses is another variation.

“Fear of missing out” was first used to describe this concept in a 1996 paper by marketing expert Dan Herman, who wrote: “The emerging portrait is of a person and consumer who is led by a new basic motivation: ambition to exhaust all possibilities and the fear of missing out on something.” The acronym FOMO first appeared in 2004 in the Harvard Business School’s magazine The Harbus, and It made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

Przybylski and colleagues developed a Fear of Missing Out scale (FOMOs) to quantify FOMO for research purposes. Items on the scale include “I get anxious when I don’t know what my friends are up to” and “When I have a good time it is important for me to share the details online (e.g. updating status).”

Cognitive and emotional factors

There are a number of messy things in the head that can feed into FOMO. A major contributing factor is the desire for interpersonal attachments and a need to belong, but at the same time feeling socially excluded and worthless.

Envy may accompany FOMO, but the two are considered distinct constructs. Envy involves wishing you could have what another person has, whereas FOMO is more diffuse, not focusing on a specific individual and what they have.

The desire to conform and perceived peer pressure contribute to FOMO. If other people are doing something, shouldn’t you be doing it too? On social media, you don’t see what other people are having to sacrifice to do whatever you see them doing in that quick post, which makes it difficult to understand the context. It may feel overwhelming trying to do what everyone else is doing, when in reality, other people are only doing what they themselves are doing, not what everyone else is doing.

According to self-determination theory, psychological satisfaction relates to one’s competence, autonomy, and relatedness. High levels of FOMO have been associated with low levels of psychological satisfaction. FOMO has also been linked with lower mood and overall well-being.

Behavioural Consequences of FOMO

FOMO leads people to spend large amounts of time on social media (and in particular Facebook and Instagram) in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of missing out and the associated anxiety. Social media also facilitates comparison to others.

FOMO can change people’s “in real life” experiences. It can make them less likely to repeat, at least in the short term, an activity they’ve already done, as there’s always something new to make sure they’re not missing out on. FOMO can occur even while engaging in enjoyable activities, worsening one’s evaluation of current experiences. Sounds kind of like the anti-mindfulness.

In a study of Flemish adolescents, high levels of FOMO were associated with both problematic social media use and phubbing behaviour (I learned a new word—phubbing is apparently what you call it when someone is ignoring who they’re with in person because they’re on their phone).

Missing out? Yes please

Sign me up for missing out. I don’t like people, I don’t care what they’re doing, and I don’t want to do what they’re doing. I wasn’t always this anti-humanity, but even back when I was more social, I was okay with missing out. It probably comes from a combination of being very independent and being very clear on what I do and do not like (that’s where the stubborn moose aspect comes in, too).

One of the things I like about WordPress is that you don’t get stuck in the same kind of infinite scroll action going on on social media platforms. Infinite scroll is a win for platforms and advertisers, but it has so much potential for crazy-making for the user (i.e. the product, not the customer).

Do you tend to be prone to FOMO? Do you think there’s anything social media platforms should be doing differently in relation to FOMO?

References

  • APA gradPSYCH Magazine: Do you fear missing out?
  • Franchina, V., Vanden Abeele, M., Van Rooij, A. J., Lo Coco, G., & De Marez, L. (2018). Fear of missing out as a predictor of problematic social media use and phubbing behavior among Flemish adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(10), 2319.
  • Hayran, C., Anik, L., & Gürhan-Canli, Z. (2020). A threat to loyalty: Fear of missing out (FOMO) leads to reluctance to repeat current experiences.&PloS one, 15(4), e0232318.
  • Herman, D. (2000). Introducing short-term brands: A new branding tool for a new consumer reality. Journal of Brand Management, 7(5), 330-340.
  • Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848.
  • Wikipedia: Fear of missing out
The Psychology Corner: Insights into psychology and psychological tests

The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.

Ashley L. Peterson

BScPharm BSN MPN

Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.

56 thoughts on “What Is… FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)”

  1. Good write-up by you👍 Personally, I feel that one way to use our social media in a good way and avoid FOMO at the same time is to have more two-way interactions which are healthy and enriching, instead of depending on just one way of interacting like clicking likes and showing emoticons. We need more real conversations that boost up our well-being. Writing solo is good for reflection, a first step to stay connected with others on WordPress.

  2. I’m not sure I grasp this fully, but I think I do have a bit of FOMO. You wrote: “According to self-determination theory, psychological satisfaction relates to one’s competence, autonomy, and relatedness.”

    I don’t doubt my competence in certain areas, but I definitely doubt it in a lot of areas where many people are very competent. I’m pretty good at autonomy, though, and largely for this same reason. People don’t need to see how weird I am in the way I go about trying to manage “simple tasks” and I’d rather just do it “my way” (even if it’s inconvenient) and not have anybody see it (to laugh at me, mock me, etc.) I got enough of that on the playground.

    But as far as “relatedness” my level of psychological satisfaction has got to be pretty low. So I probably have a high level of FOMO, though it seems to relate to certain social groups and not to others. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on what’s happening at the local coffee shop if I don’t show up for a couple weeks. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on what all my peers on various church boards are doing on the church boards, even though I feel it’s highly unlikely I will ever be invited to serve on a church board.

    I do feel that I am missing out on what the Theatre Arts professionals are doing over at the Theatre Arts Department. It’s just as unlikely that I’ll ever serve as an active member of such an organized academic department, but I still consider myself a theatre arts professional, and I can’t help but think I’m missing out on something over there.

    Also however this is because I think they’re talking about me in a way that might affect me. “Should we do Andy’s musical? Naw, not yet — let’s wait till around 2023 or so.” If people in the coffeehouse or church are talking about me, it’s more like: “Hey have you seen Andy lately?” And in that case, I don’t care.

    1. I think we all have areas that we’re completely incompetent in, so at least some of that probably comes down to personal relevance. I couldn’t care less that I have zero competence at fixing cars, but I care about my competence at writing, because writing is something that’s personally very relevant.

  3. I battle with FOMO every single day and I know full well that it has stemmed from what happened in 2018. It consumes me and I want to get away from it but I don’t know how to.

  4. I think FOMO is the defining characteristic of social media, advertising, marketing, and perhaps modern society as a whole lol. And it’s completely intentional.

    It’s been around forever (like you mention with Keeping Up with Joneses), but it may be a bit worse now that we’re all so connected.

    I read recently that the Metaverse will eventually replace the Internet. At least that’s what some people think, and Facebook is investing heavily in it. The Metaverse is a kind of virtual reality type thing where we may literally live inside the Internet like Ready Player One.

    Basically, we’re screwed.

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