Why Can’t I Stop Using Social Media Problematically? The Impact of Norm and Neutralization from the Regulatory Focus Perspective

Zilong Liu, Xuequn Wang, and Jing Chen
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 25, Number 2, 2021, pp. 204-229.


Problematic social media use has increasingly become an issue in schools and companies. Individuals often attempt to reduce their problematic use, but some may not be successful. This implies that there are both impeding and maintaining factors influencing problematic use and that different individuals may follow different mechanisms during problematic use. Drawing on cognitive dissonance theory and regulatory focus theory, our study develops a theoretical model to describe how impeding factors (here, injunctive norms) and maintaining factors (neutralization) influence individuals’ intention to reduce problematic use through guilt, as well as how the effects of these factors are moderated by individuals’ regulatory focus. The results provide strong support for our model. While injunctive norms have a stronger effect on prevention-focused users, the effect of neutralization is stronger on promotion-focused users. Our study highlights the importance of regulatory focus to our understanding of the differential impact of injunctive norms and neutralization and suggests that future studies further examine how individuals experience cognitive dissonance following different mechanisms. Our results suggest that when trying to reduce students’ problematic social media use, teachers need to follow different approaches for individuals with different types of regulatory focus.