Digital Addiction

49 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2021 Last revised: 26 Jul 2023

See all articles by Hunt Allcott

Hunt Allcott

New York University (NYU)

Matthew Gentzkow

Stanford University

Lena Song

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Date Written: June 2021


Many have argued that digital technologies such as smartphones and social media are addictive. We develop an economic model of digital addiction and estimate it using a randomized experiment. Temporary incentives to reduce social media use have persistent effects, suggesting social media are habit forming. Allowing people to set limits on their future screen time substantially reduces use, suggesting self-control problems. Additional evidence suggests people are inattentive to habit formation and partially unaware of self-control problems. Looking at these facts through the lens of our model suggests that self-control problems cause 31 percent of social media use.

Suggested Citation

Allcott, Hunt and Gentzkow, Matthew and Song, Lena, Digital Addiction (June 2021). NBER Working Paper No. w28936, Available at SSRN:

Hunt Allcott (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) ( email )

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Matthew Gentzkow

Stanford University ( email )

Lena Song

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

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