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?


  • 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 headshot

Ashley L. Peterson


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

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

  1. I have FOMO: Fear of Massive Octopuses!

    Seriously, I try not to have this. I know that, if I’d made different religious choices, my life could have been very different and not necessarily worse, at least in the short to medium term, but I’m OK with that. It’s harder when I see people who’ve made the same choices, but had a different outcome to me. Acceptance of my autistic identity, and being with E, have helped a lot here. Nevertheless, I avoid social media because it can be so triggering of FOMO.

    Just this morning my Oxford college sent me their annual magazine showing how other graduates from my college are doing and inviting me to tell them what I’m doing. I hurriedly flicked through it to check there was nothing worthwhile then plunged it straight in the recycling…

    1. I get the same sort of alumni stuff and I hate it. For me, it’s not so much a fear of missing out as a sense of them smacking people across the face with what they have missed out on.

  2. When I was a teenager and into young adulthood I was plagued by the FOMO for sure. In fact, I had nightmares with scenes to that effect from which I awoke in horror. Life has continued and I have thankfully escaped that trepidation in my minimalist approach to life in general.
    A great share, it reminded me of how far I have thus far travelled on this front. Thank you Ashley Leia.

  3. FOMO is something I have a difficulty understanding on a personal, emotional level, as I rarely experience this kind of anxiety. I guess even if other factors weren’t involved – like knowing what I like and what I don’t – I’d still not experience it very often or strongly as I miss out on a lot of things anyway due to blindness. But my Sofi experiences a lot of FOMO and it seems like it can really spoil one’s life sometimes effectively when you could just have a fun time instead, doing whatever you’re doing yourself.

  4. I sometimes experience this, but more in terms of products — surprise boxes from my favorite planner company, those limited edition releases of candy or food, things like that. As to what everyone is doing, I couldn’t be arsed. I’m well aware that people present their best selves on social media, which often hide larger and darker truths.

      1. Amen to that. I’ve gotten better over the years, but it’s still a thing. (Like that limited edition eyeshadow palette that I loved into the ground that I can’t get again. That’s annoying.)

  5. Less and less the older I get. Still like to socialize on my own terms, but when people are doing something I dislike (hiking, forex), I have no issue staying home. I used to feel it wrt to romantic relationships, but I’ve experienced what they’re like, so now I don’t 😂

  6. 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?

    I think I got into that a little bit and have always been a bit ‘nosy’ (my word) about finding out things that don’t concern me. BUT. I draw the line at gossipy trashy stuff and social media? Aside from WordPress (if you consider that ‘social media”) I don’t indulge in any social media site at all. Like Ashleyleia, I don’t really like people and crowds and so forth drive me back to my cave in short order. I haven’t always been this anti-social, it’s worse now because of COVID and the enforced isolation of last year. But I’ve always been fairly choosy about the company I keep. I enjoy a few friends or a small group more than crowds of people.

    What could social media do differently? Stop the idiocy where it starts IMHO. Most of the stuff on Facebook (the social media site I used to belong to) is drivel. It’s fake news, speculation, and it’s designed to make the world a lot stupider than it already is. In my opinion anyway. I don’t ever voluntarily watch or listen to celebrity ‘news’ or crap that isn’t based in fact and it shows. Why waste my time?

    Recently here in my real life there was a police officer who committed suicide. I didn’t hear about it until several days after the event because I saw billboards around town dedicated to that officer and R.I.P. type messages. Now in that instance (and instances like it) I am fairly FOMO. I didn’t know that cop, His death didn’t affect my life at all. I have no reason to be so interested in ‘what happened’ but I am. That’s the area where my ‘nosy’ gene kicks in.

    1. What I wonder with social media is if there are ways that people could interact without all the idiocy, like on WordPress. I get that some people are more social than I am, but Facebook is a gong show.

  7. This is a higly relevant topic, unfortunately so. I think I’m somewhere in between, being more prone to FOMO at times. It’s more that I wonder what others are up to, but sometimes don’t want to ”intrude” and just ask 😅 That’s where social media posts can actually help, even though most posts on Facebook or Instagram are people showing themselves on a good day for sure.

      1. Oh you’re not alone 😂🙈 I actually prefer Instagram over Facebook in this, since Instagram actually has a feature showing when I’ve looked through everything that is new since my last visit.

  8. Thinking about it before i improved my self esteem i had fomo bad … now i get the concept your only seeing what people put out there. Whether good stuff or the bad. I haven’t felt any fomo in a long while thankfully and thanks for this post to remind me to be grateful for that

  9. I’d say I had this before the social media age – expensive nights out just because friends and acquaintances were going, or meeting up with people when I didn’t feel great, just because the next time they meet up, the conversation is always about the last time they met up.

    I’d honestly say that social media killed this in me, the fact that somebody was always doing something just made me ignore it all and withdraw. It’s not always been for the better, there’s some nights I missed that I wish I’d made the effort to attend, but I’d say that, on balance, I’m better now than I would have been had I been trying to match up to what Facebook was showing me that people were doing.

  10. When we were Littles and Teens, we were devastated at being left out. It felt attachment related, insecure. We were neglected children so that not being wanted or nurtured were actual threats

    Now, we don’t care very much. We don’t have many friends. We don’t have social media accounts. We don’t follow what others are doing. We see fomo occasionally in our outside kids but pretty rarely—and they recognize it for what it is, which seems healthier than not and probably normal.

    1. I’m inclined to think that being left out in terms of being actively excluded is far more harmful than feeling like one can’t keep up with the Joneses. Nurture is a need, but I don’t think there’s any genuine nurture to be found by trying to keep up on social media.

  11. Interesting. I had no idea that FOMO was in any way actually mental health-related or anxiety-related–usually I hear FOMO being thrown around so casually.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: