Did You Know TikTok is Designed to be Addicting?


Samara Buffardi

Composite image by the author.

Samara Buffardi, Staff Reporter

You probably already know that Tiktok is one of the most popular apps used by young Americans, and even around the world. But according to Dr. Julie Albright, a scientist at USC, TikTok’s popularity is partly because it is designed to be addictive; so people will continue to use their app. 

“Our brains are changing based on this interaction with digital technologies and one of these is time compression,” Dr. Albright says. “Our attention spans are lowering.”

John Koetsier, who interviewed Albright for Forbes digital magazine, found that people using this TikTok go on for an average of fifty minutes per day. He says, “I downloaded the app to familiarize myself with it, dived in and started watching Tiktok’s short, 15-second videos. An hour later I resurfaced, shook my head and wondered where my afternoon had gone.”

The makers designed the app like they did so the consumers would become addicted. But why do they want an addictive product? Well, because it is a product – a vehicle to show you ads.

“When you’re scrolling … sometimes you see a photo or something that’s delightful and it catches your attention,” Albright says. “And you get that little dopamine hit in the brain…in the pleasure center of the brain. So you want to keep scrolling.” Even if you sometimes see something you don’t like, you have to scroll through, and that motion gets addictive. 

“In psychological terms [it’s] called random reinforcement,” Albright says. “It means sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s how these platforms are designed…they’re exactly like a slot machine.” When a video you post gets a like or a view that gives you a boost of dopamine. That is what the company wants to happen and it makes you keep coming back to the app.