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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 110-115

Patterns, Attitudes, and Dependence toward WhatsApp among College Students

Department of Psychiatry, Central Referral Hospital, Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences, Gangtok, Sikkim, India

Date of Web Publication2-Apr-2018

Correspondence Address:
Harshavardhan Sampath
Department of Psychiatry, Central Referral Hospital, Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences, 5th Mile, Tadong, Gangtok - 737 102, Sikkim
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jmhhb.jmhhb_42_17

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Background: WhatsApp (WA), a free cross-platform smartphone application has revolutionized social communication over the virtual world. It enables information sharing, both personal and professional, individually and across social groups. Despite these positive changes, there have been concerns about excessive WA use, especially among college students, resulting in the neglect of important social and academic commitments. However, there is lack of quality research on WA use in this vulnerable population. Aims: The aim of this study is to understand the patterns and attitudes toward WA use and measure the level of dependence among college students. Materials and Methods: In a sample of 150 undergraduate medical college students who provided informed consent, comprehensive questionnaires were administered to assess the patterns, attitudes, and dependence toward WA use. Results: WA was the most common social media platform used (70%) which eclipsed the time spend on other apps (Facebook, Twitter, etc). While half of the students spent 1–2 h/day, a significant minority (10.67%) spent almost 6–7 h/day on WA. Nearly 12% (n = 18) of students qualified for WA dependence. There were no significant differences in patterns of WA use between students with or without WA dependence. Students with WA dependence had significantly lesser negative attitudes toward its use compared to the rest. Scores on all dimensions of WA addiction, namely, salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse were significantly higher in students with WA dependence. Conclusion: WA dependence is an emerging behavioral addiction among college students. With no specific pattern of use to distinguish dependent users, it is difficult to recognize this problem. Changing the attitudes towards WA use by creating awareness about it's addictive potential, monitoring and restricting the use of mobile phones especially during class hours, encouraging face to face interactions with friends and family can help reduce the progression of this behavioral problem. It is essential for clinicians to equip themselves to deal with technological addictions. Research on the the management of WA dependence using biopsychosocial principles suited to the Indian context are needed.

Keywords: Attitudes, college students, dependence, WhatsApp

How to cite this article:
Sampath H, Kalyani S, Soohinda G, Dutta S. Patterns, Attitudes, and Dependence toward WhatsApp among College Students. J Mental Health Hum Behav 2017;22:110-5

How to cite this URL:
Sampath H, Kalyani S, Soohinda G, Dutta S. Patterns, Attitudes, and Dependence toward WhatsApp among College Students. J Mental Health Hum Behav [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 28];22:110-5. Available from: https://www.jmhhb.org/text.asp?2017/22/2/110/229105

  Introduction Top

Social psychologists consistently emphasize the role of good social relationships at home and work for happiness.[1] The quality and quantity of communication with others appear to be crucial for establishing good relationships essential for both long and short-term well-being.[2] The 21st century has been a witness to dramatic changes in social communication brought on by the internet revolution. Online interactions have gradually gained significance as E-mails and SMS have paved way to social networking and instant internet messaging (IM) services. In particular, the release of internet-based mobile text messaging applications such as WhatsApp (WA), has allowed consumers to socialize and stay connected longer, using their smartphones without having to pay for a network operator's SMS charges.

Since its introduction in 2009, WA has reached one billion users worldwide, sharing 700 million photos and 100 million videos daily, making it the most popular messaging application globally.[3] Built as an alternative to SMS, WA offers real-time texting or communication combined with easy sharing of information (e.g., contact lists) and media content (e.g., audio, video files, images, and location data). The success of WA can be attributed to empowerment, sense of belonging, sociability, enjoyment, quick information sharing, and cost benefits.[4]

Despite the fact that technology has brought several positive changes to our lives, its negative effects cannot be ignored. Research on internet addiction has recently focused on specific internet-based activities (such as messaging, chatting, gaming, pornography, and trolling) rather than internet use as a whole, since people do not get addicted to the medium per se (i.e., the internet), but to specific applications or activities they engage in cyberspace.[5]

Excessive use of IM applications has been associated with various societal, mental and academic problems.[6],[7] Possible motivations to use IM applications include media richness, self-expression, and self-presentation,[8] change of mood and escape from real-life problems.[9] Given that WA has become an integral part of our social communication embraced, especially by the youth, it is imperative that we exercise responsible caution given its addictive potential. To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first to systematically study the patterns, attitudes, and prevalence of WA use and its dependence in Indian college students.

Aims and objectives

The aim of this study is to study patterns of use, attitudes toward WA and its dependence among college students. We also wanted to analyze whether students who are dependent on WA differ in their attitudes and patterns of WA use from students who are not.

  Materials and Methods Top

The study was cross-sectional in design in a sample of 150 MBBS students who had given their written informed consent for participation. It was approved by the institutional research protocol and ethical committees. The following instruments were administered:

(A) Questionnaire for assessment of WA use patterns: This 14 item questionnaire was developed specifically for this study after taking inputs from active WA users. It assesses the time spent, frequency of use, features of WA commonly used and the types of information sent and shared over WA [Appendix A]. [Additional file 1]

(B) Attitudes toward WA Questionnaire: This 15 item questionnaire was specifically developed for this study to assess the attitudes of students toward WA. A group of 10 regular WA users were asked to list positive and negative statements related to WA use. Statements with related themes were gathered and divided into positive and negative attitudes. A list of 10 items assessing positive and 5 items assessing negative attitudes was finalized. These were rated on a 5 point Likert scale from agree strongly to disagree strongly [Appendix B]. [Additional file 2]

WA addiction scale: the WA addiction scale used for the present study was adapted from the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS) by Andreassen et al., from the University of Bergen, Norway.[10] The BFAS, initially a pool of 18 items, three reflecting each of the six core elements of addiction (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse), was constructed and administered to 423 students together with several other standardized self-report scales.[10] That item within each of the six addiction elements with the highest corrected item correlation was retained in the final 6-item scale. The factor structure of the scale was good, and co-efficient alpha was 0.83. The 3-week test–retest reliability coefficient was 0.82. The 6 items are scored on a 5 point Likert scale from very rarely = 1 to very often = 5. Answering often or very often to 4 or more items is taken as an indication of WA dependence (polythetic scoring).[10] The adapted instrument (changing Facebook to WA) possessed good psychometric properties, for example, skewness and kurtosis were in the acceptable range of ±1 with very little missing data, no outliers, very good to excellent internal reliability, low measurement error, stable alpha, and sufficient homogeneity in the instrument stems.[5]

Minitab 17 Statistical Software (State College, PA: Minitab, Inc.) was used for statistical analyses.

  Results Top

WA (69.3%) was the most common social media application among the students followed by Facebook (18%) and Twitter (1.3%). The remaining 11.4% of students used other applications such as Viber, Snapchat, Line, Wechat, Skype, Jio Chat, Imo, Hike, and Messenger. The sample had been using WA for a mean of 2.9 years (standard deviation [SD] 1.32). Nearly 64% reported that after installing WA, the time spends on other mobile applications had come down. Ease of communication (71.3%) and user-friendly interface (54%) were the main reasons students preferred WA. More than half of the students (51.3%) spent at least 1–2 h/day on WA which was accessed more during leisure hours than at class. WA was checked every time on hearing an incoming message tone by one-third (31.3%) of the students during leisure hours and one-fifth (19.3%) of the students during class hours. Text messages (89%) were by far the most common information shared on WA mostly in the form of jokes/humor (32.7%) and news content (18.7%). Interestingly, only 10% of the shared content was academic in nature. Forwarding received messages was not common in this sample with only 8% acknowledging this practice. One-third of the students (33.3%) believed that they would still continue using WA if it were to become a paid application. Days of continuous WA nonuse was 3.19 days (SD = 4.26). Students were members of 7.14 (SD = 4.34) groups and regularly checked for messages in 2.47 (SD = 4.34) of these groups.

The responses to attitude toward WA use were mixed [Table 1]. Students generally agreed to have a positive attitude toward WA on items 2, 3, 8, and 10 while disagreed on items 1, 4, 5, and 9. Items 6 and 7 had an equally divided opinion for and against. Interestingly, most students had negative attitudes toward WA use on all 5 items that assessed this construct.
Table 1: Attitudes towards WA use* among the student sample (n=150)

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WA addiction Scale responses revealed that 12% (n = 18) of the students qualified for WA addiction. There were no significant differences in patterns of WA use between students with or without WA addiction (all P > 0.05).

Ordinal logistic regression analysis [Table 2] was used to analyze the odds of having a positive attitude toward WA use among students with or without WA dependence.
Table 2: Ordinal logistic regression analysis of the relationship between WA dependence and positive attitudes towards WA use

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Students with WA dependence had significantly greater odds of having positive attitudes toward WA use in the following dimensions: indispensable part of life (odds ratio [OR] =5.75), making new friends (OR = 4.87), cure for boredom (OR 2.97), improvement in social status/popularity (OR = 4.45) compared to others. Interestingly, nondependent WA users had significantly more positive attitude than dependent users to the question on whether WA use helped organize meetings/gatherings (OR = 0.25). However, analysis of negative attitudes [Table 3] revealed that students with WA dependence had significantly lesser odds of endorsing negative attitudes compared to others in all the 5 items used to assess this construct.
Table 3: Ordinal logistic regression analysis to test the relationship between WA dependence and negative attitudes towards WA use

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Students with WA dependence had significantly greater odds of scoring higher in all 6 dimensions of WA addiction, namely, salience (OR = 12.34, confidence interval [CI] = 4.55–33.49), tolerance (OR = 13.24, CI 4.48–39.12), mood modification (OR = 15.44, CI = 5.37–44.43), relapse (OR = 28.47, CI = 9.14–88.68), withdrawal (OR = 11.90, CI = 4.41–32.14), and conflict (OR = 31.26, CI = 10.34–94.52) than nondependent WA users (all P < 0.001, highly significant).

  Discussion Top

We set out to understand the patterns and attitudes toward WA use in a sample of medical college students. The study results revealed that WA had eclipsed Facebook, as the leading social media application in this population, with 69.3% WA users compared to 18% who used Facebook. This trend has been observed by Montag et al., who reported that WA use accounted for 19.38% while Facebook for only 9.38% in Germany.[11]

Ahad and Lim in their study on WA use among 158 college students in Brunei reported WA use patterns comparable to our study.[12] As with our study, students reported that they used WA for its ease of communication, interface, economics, speed and timesaving capability in that order, respectively. Texting messages was the most common WA feature used followed by sharing photos, videos and voice messages in that order in students, similar to our study. Forwarding messages, a popular practice among WA users was quite uncommon in students of both studies. This could be due to social desirability bias, where students tend to underestimate the content forwarded by them.

While most studies on WA use have not assessed the respondent's attitudes toward its use, we felt that a person's attitude toward an object influences the overall pattern of his/her responses and behaviors. The only other study to have assessed this construct was by Sultan in a sample of 437 undergraduate business students in Kuwait.[13] However, the author did not disclose the results but used it as a dependent variable in analysis. The results of this study indicate that students dependent on WA had positive attitudes on nine of the ten items that assessed this construct, with significant differences in four of these ten items. Furthermore, students with WA dependence had significant lesser negative attitudes towards its use than the rest. These results can be explained by the classical Uses and Gratification theory which proposes that the popularity of a medium is determined not only by the pleasure it provides to the audience but also the attitudes and motivations the viewers have towards the contents.[14] Dhir in a study of 1914 adolescents from English medium schools of North Western India on internet uses and gratifications identified 6 internet U and Gs, namely, information seeking, exposure, connecting, coordination, social influence, and entertainment gratifications.[15] Similar to our study Dhir found that WA addiction was associated with social influence and entertainment and not with information seeking or exposure. These gratifications coupled with a significantly lesser negative attitude towards WA in the dependent group explains the addictive potential of this application.

Only a handful of studies have measured addiction to WA. The few studies that have measured WA addiction have used indigenous measures developed for their particular study, thus limiting reliable comparisons.[16] Others have used general internet addiction scales for this purpose.[13] We chose to use the adapted version of the BFAS which measures the core features of dependence as defined by the DSM.[10] Dhir A in a sample of 405 adolescents from North India used this scale to measure WA addiction.[5] Since the primary aim of the study was to validate a WA addiction scale, the author did not report the dimensional scores of the scale and the number of subjects dependent on WA. Since the BFAS uses a polythetic scoring system, where the suggested cut-score is set to >3 on at least four of the six dimensions we choose not to mention the mean scores in our results. Using this scoring 12% of our sample was determined to have WA addiction. This finding is a cause of concern for teachers and mental health professionals as these figures are likely to rise in the years to come as WA penetrates further in this population.

We could not discern any significant difference between those students who were addicted to WA from those who were not based on patterns of WA use. This is surprising and illuminating as common sense would suggest that dependent users would utilize WA differently than others. This finding needs to be replicated by other researchers.


As the study sample consisted exclusively of medical college students, the results cannot be generalized to all college students. The survey responses of the participants could have been influenced by social desirability bias as we could not verify the actual WA use practices of the sample independently. We measured patterns and attitudes toward WA by indigenous scales as there were no validated scales to measure these constructs.

  Conclusion Top

The present study is an attempt to understand the significance of the WA phenomenon among college students. There is a lack of quality research in this area, especially in the Indian context despite the popularity and penetration of WA in our country. Except for the scale developed by Dhir [5] to assess WA use (yet unpublished) all other validated scales have modified preexisting social application questionnaires to WA use. Yet, our observation that 12% of our students were dependent users of WA is a cause of concern. Since no particular pattern of WA use was associated with dependence it becomes quite difficult to detect dependent users unless they are screened for the problem. Based on our findings, we recommend the following (a) scales to exclusively measure WA dependence be developed, (b) develop awareness about the addictive potential of WA, especially among college students and restricting mobile phone usage in college settings, (c) studies on the impact of WA dependence on academics and socialization need to be carried out in colleges, and (d) replacing the gratifications achieved through WA by increasing and emphasizing more conventional interactions among students.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Argyle M. Causes and correlates of happiness. In: Kahneman D, Diener E, Schwarz N, editors. Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; 1999. p. 353.  Back to cited text no. 1
Amichai-Hamburger Y, Furnham A. The positive net. Comput Hum Behav 2007;23:1033-45.  Back to cited text no. 2
WhatsApp Crosses Half-a-Billion User Mark; Strong Growth in India and Brazil”. The Indian Express. April 23, 2014. Available from: http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/technology-others/whatsapp-crosses-half-a-billion-user-mark-strong-growth-in-india-and-brazil/.html. [Last accessed on 2017 Oct 17].  Back to cited text no. 3
Church K, de Oliveira R. What's up with WhatsApp? Comparing Mobile Instant Messaging Behaviors with Traditional SMS. In Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services; 27 August, 2013. p. 352-61.  Back to cited text no. 4
Dhir A. On the Nature of Internet Addiction: What is it and how is it measured? Academic Dissertation-study 5. Faculty of Behavioural Sciences: University of Helsinki; 2015.  Back to cited text no. 5
Widyanto L, Griffiths M. 'Internet addiction': A critical review. Int J Ment Health Addict 2006;4:31-51.  Back to cited text no. 6
Rosenbaum MS, Wong IA. The effect of instant messaging services on society's mental health. J Serv Mark 2012;26:124-36.  Back to cited text no. 7
Sheer VC. Hong Kong adolescents' use of MSN vs. ICQ for developing friendships online: Considering media richness and presentational control. Chin J Commun 2010;3:223-40.  Back to cited text no. 8
Wellman B. An electronic group is virtually a social network. In: Kiesler S, editor. Research Milestones on the Information Highway. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1996. p. 179-205.  Back to cited text no. 9
Andreassen CS, Torsheim T, Brunborg GS, Pallesen S. Development of a Facebook addiction scale. Psychol Rep 2012;110:501-17.  Back to cited text no. 10
Montag C, Błaszkiewicz K, Sariyska R, Lachmann B, Andone I, Trendafilov B, et al. Smartphone usage in the 21st century: Who is active on WhatsApp? BMC Res Notes 2015;8:331.  Back to cited text no. 11
Ahad AD, Lim SM. Convenience or nuisance? The 'WhatsApp' dilemma. Procedia Soc Behav Sci 2014;155:189-96.  Back to cited text no. 12
Sultan AJ. Addiction to mobile text messaging applications is nothing to “lol” about. Soc Sci J 2014;51:57-69.  Back to cited text no. 13
Roy SK. Internet uses and gratifications: A survey in the Indian context. Comput Human Behav 2009;25:878-86.  Back to cited text no. 14
Dhir A. On the Nature of Internet Addiction: What is it and how is it measured? Academic Dissertation-study 1. Faculty of Behavioural Sciences: University of Helsinki; 2015.  Back to cited text no. 15
Singh N, Chopra N, Kaur J. A Study to analyze relationship between psychological behavioral factors on WhatsApp addiction among Youth in Jalandhar District in Punjab. Eur J Bus Manage 2014;6:269-73.  Back to cited text no. 16


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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