Instagram is an image-based social network for sharing personal photos and videos (Omnicore, 2020). This platform allows users to take pictures, apply filters, chat, and share virtual content with fans who can ‘like’ and comment on them (Kim et al., 2017). Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social network platforms among adults worldwide (Omnicore, 2019) Also, approximately 59% of its users are aged between 18 and 29 years (Alhabash & Ma, 2017; Omnicore, 2019). For a minority of users, this popularity carries the risk of addiction (Kuss & Griffiths, 2017). Although addiction to social networks such as Instagram is not officially recognized as a diagnosis (Moqbel & Kock, 2018), various scholars have classified social media addiction as a subset of behavioral addictions.

For instance, using a biopsychosocial framework, Griffiths (2005) claims that any behavior that features six core components (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse) can be operationally defined as an addictive behaviors (including Instagram addiction if all six consequences are endorsed by Instagram user). Andreassen and Pallesen (2014) reviewed various studies and in a review paper concluded that social network users who become addicted need to spend a lot of time on social media platforms and use the activity as a tool to reduce negative feelings such as guilt, anxiety, restlessness, and depression. They also noted that when such users are unable to access their social media accounts, they become stressed, restless, and irritable and are unable to reduce the duration of their use of their network use. Addictive use of social media can also interfere with other important activities in life including interpersonal relationships, as well as occupational and/or educational tasks (Serenko & Turel, 2015; Ponnusamy et al., 2020; Karimi et al., 2021).

Social networks (SNs) have become an important part of people's daily life, and the consequences of using SNs need to be investigated. Reviews have shown that more studies and different strategies are needed to understand the relationship between SN use and the well-being and health of users (Devine & Lloyd, 2012). One of the perspectives used to explain addiction to social networks is motivational theories. Here, it is posited that individuals who are driven by specific motivations (e.g., entertainment, self-presentation, socializing) and psychological needs (e.g., autonomy, competence, relatedness) may end up using social media excessively (Masur et al., 2014). Some studies have been influenced by theories related to motivation, such as the theory of uses and gratifications (Katz et al., 1974) and the theory of self-determination (Deci & Ryan, 2000). In these studies, satisfaction (such as maintaining relationships, interacting with others, and receiving social support) and social psychological needs are different motives that predict addictive use of social media (e.g., Gao et al., 2017). Using social media is fun and relaxing, but excessive use of it may be addictive (Klobas et al., 2018). The use of these networks can become a maladaptive mechanism that individuals use to temporarily escape from negative pressures and attitudes, which can lead to addictive use of social networks in the long-term for a minority of users (Walburg et al., 2016).

According to recent studies, Instagram users can devote a lot of time on this social media application, and most of their use of it is personal (Korkmaz & Dilmaç, 2021). Some behavioral habits like uploading the best photo and being praised are very important to individual users. Therefore, users often tend to feel good about themselves and are very sensitive to criticism, and this special sense of satisfaction affects the individual's motivations for increased use and potentially addictive behavior (Sheldon et al., 2017). Environmental and cultural changes affect people's behaviors and feelings. In the context of new changes and the effects of social interactions, the individual's psychological needs also play an important role in online behavior (Li et al., 2016a, b). A low level of well-being affects psychological needs and can result in activities that expose individuals to the risk of behavioral addiction (Chen & Nath, 2016). Various studies have investigated the relationship between internet addiction and psychological needs (e.g., Li et al., 2016a, b; Yu et al., 2013). Psychological needs are affected by various life events, and changing conditions can cause behavioral and emotional problems among some individuals, and these changes affect addiction to online behaviors (Gao et al., 2021). Numerous environmental and personal factors are involved in learning and motivating human behaviors. Among these factors are the basic needs that exist inherently and universally within all individuals and play an essential role in guiding behaviors and providing the necessary motivation for active engagement with the environment, healthy psychological functioning, and skills development (Talley et al., 2012). In the context of self-determination theory, Deci and Ryan (2000) showed that the basis of all human motivations lies in the three universal needs (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness). The need for independence means the desire to choose, initiate, and regulate behavior (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Luyckx et al., 2009) to feel oneself directing one’s behavior and choosing one’s values and goals at will. Moreover, these are meaningful to individuals (Kaplan & Assor, 2012). Competence reflects an individual’s desire to control their actions, environment, and sense of accomplishment (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Martela et al., 2017). The need for relatedness also means that individuals have mutual respect and a sense of belonging to others (Luyckx et al., 2009). Satisfaction of basic needs is essential for optimal psychological development, personality integration, and well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Jang et al., 2016; Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Therefore, and related to the present study, although no previous study has examined the role of basic psychological needs in Instagram addiction, research by Özteke Kozan et al. (2019) showed that basic psychological needs have a negative and significant relationship with problematic use of the internet and social networks. Research also shows that the use of the internet more generally, is a context for individuals’ satisfying their psychological needs (Lin et al., 2014; Greitemeyer et al., 2014; Neufeld & Malin, 2019; Karimi et al., 2021). One study also found that the personality traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and self-liking are negatively and significantly correlated with Instagram addiction (Kircaburun & Griffiths, 2018).

Therefore, addiction to social networks such as Instagram can have detrimental consequences on various aspects of life and mental health, including the psychological well-being of individuals (D’Souza & Hemamalini, 2018; Ponnusamy et al., 2020). Psychological well-being is a concept derived from positive psychology and refers to striving to develop potential talents and abilities that demonstrate an individual’s understanding and capacity for overall life quality (Wu et al., 2020). Also, individuals with good well-being often experience positive emotions, are optimistic about events (even stressful ones), and use more healthy coping strategies (Heintzelman & Diener, 2019; Satici et al., 2021). In this regard, studies show that social media addiction has a negative and significant relationship with psychological well-being (De Lenne et al., 2018; Sharma & Sharma, 2018; Arabi et al., 2021). A study also showed that Instagram addiction negatively and significantly affected psychological well-being (Sharifi Fard et al., 2022). Also, Instagram addiction significantly and negatively correlates with students’ sense of happiness and self-confidence (Zargar, 2020).

In general, empirical studies have shown that underlying factors (personality and needs) contribute to social network addiction. However, socio-cultural and behavioral reinforcement factors can maintain this dependence (Andreassen & Pallesen, 2014). Moreover, social network use is a growing trend among individuals in many societies, especially adolescents and young people. Problamatic use of social networks can also cause damage and interfere in individuals’ lives such as interpersonal problems in the family and academic problems (e.g., D’Souza & Hemamalini, 2018; Ponnusamy et al., 2020; Sharifi Fard et al., 2022). Consequently, over the past decade, empirical research examining problematic use of social networks has increased in this area (Kuss & Griffiths, 2017). It is essential to examine the possible factors associated with problematic use of social media networks and their consequences (Yu et al., 2013). Therefore, it is assumed that not satisfying basic human needs can lead individuals to try and satisfy their needs in different ways such as using Instagram (a social media platform that is very popular in Iran, where the present study was carried out). It is also assumed that problematic use of Instagram can lead to harmful consequences (Zargar, 2020) such as reduced well-being. According to Li et al. (2016a, b), psychological needs are not only influenced by the social context, but also variables such as motivation, attitudes and different values, and can cause different online behaviors such as addiction to social media if a necessary experience is lacking. Satisfying these needs can be effective in increasing well-being but addictive behavior could lead to low well-being. At this point, it should be noted that psychological needs are not the sole determinant of well-being without other factors such as online addiction behavior. For this reason, online addiction behavior (in particular Instagram addiction) may be a mediator between psychological needs and well-being. Therefore, the present study investigated the relationship between basic psychological needs and psychological well-being, and the mediating role of Instagram addiction.


Participants and Procedure

The present research study comprised an online cross-sectional survey. The target population was university students in Mashhad City. The sample initially included 681 students using a four-stage cluster sampling method and 663 participants remained for analysis after the elimination of those with incomplete data (n = 18). The participants were selected in four stages. First two universities were selected. From these, one faculty from each university was selected. From these, two departments from each faculty was selected. Finally, four classes from each department at three levels (Bachelor, Masters, and doctorate) were selected (all steps comprised random sampling at each step conducted using a lottery draw). There were also three outliers that were removed from the datasetand the final sample comprised 660 participants (476 females; 72.1%) and (184 males; 27.9%). The mean ages for females and males were 23.41 years and 24.11 years, respectively. The distribution of students by graduate level was: Bachelor students = 478 (72.4%); Master’s students = 138 (20.9%), and doctoral students = 44 (6.7%).


Basic Psychological Needs Scale (BPNS-21)

The BPNS-21 comprises 21 items and was developed by Gagne (2003; Persian version: Besharat, 2013) to assess basic psychological needs satisfaction at the general level. The scale comprises three factors: autonomy, competence, and communication. Items (e.g., “People generally treat me relatively friendly”) are scored from 1 (not true at all) to 7 (absolutely true) and the scoring range for each component is 7 to 21. A higher score on each component indicates a higher level of satisfaction of the specific need. Cronbach alphas in the present study were 0.70 (autonomy), 0.68 (competence), and 0.72 (communication) and 0.87 for the whole scale.

Instagram Addiction Scale (IAS-15)

The IAS-15 comprises 15 items and was developed by Kırcaburun and Griffiths (2019; Persian version: Sharifi Fard et al., 2022) by modifying the Internet Addiction Scale (Young, 1998). Items (e.g., “How much do you prefer Instagram excitement over being with close friends?”) are scored from 1 (never) to 6 (always) and the scoring range is 15 to 90. The scale comprises two factors (i.e., social effect and coercion). Cronbach alphas in the present study were 0.74 for social effect, 0.84 for coercion, and 0.87 for the whole scale.

Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale (RPWS-18)

The RPWS-18 comprises 18 items and was developed by Ryff (1989, Ryff & Singer, 2006; Persian version: Khanjani et al., 2014). This scale has six factors: independence, mastery on environment, personal growth, positive relationship with others, purposefulness in life, and self-acceptance. Items (e.g., “Life is a continuous process of learning, change, and growth for me”) are scored from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) and the scoring range is 3 to 18 for each factor. The sum of the scores of these six factors is calculated as the overall score of psychological well-being. Cronbach alphas in the present study were 0.69 for independence, 0.73 for mastery on environment, 0.70 for personal growth, 0.66 for positive relationships with others, 0.65 for purposefulness in life, 0.78 for self-acceptance, and 0.71 for the whole scale.

Sociodemographic Information

The survey also included questions relating to sociodemographic information including age, gender, marital status, income, and occupation. These characteristics are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Sociodemographic information of study participants (n = 660)

Statistical Analysis

Variables were examined for violations of normality and the presence of outliers. Descriptive analyses were then conducted. Pearson correlations and path analysis were used to test the model. Path analysis was used to examine the relationships between variables in the model. The present study investigated the effect of basic psychological needs on wellbeing by considering the mediating role of Instagram addiction, so path analysis was used to examine the direct and indirect effects of study variables.


Descriptive indicators (means and standard deviations) of basic psychological needs, Instagram addiction, and psychological well-being are shown in Table 2 alongside the statistics relating to skewness and kurtosis.

Table 2 Mean, standard deviation and normality of basic psychological needs, Instagram addiction and psychological well-being

Table 2 shows the mean and standard deviation of the research variables. The skewness and kurtosis statistics between + 1 and -1 were obtained, indicating the normal distribution of research variables. The correlations between the variables were then calculated, and are presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Correlation matrix of research variables

Table 3 shows the correlations between all the main variables. As shown in the table, there were significant correlations between all variables (p < 0.01). Path analysis was used to investigate the mediating role of Instagram addiction in the relationship between basic psychological needs and well-being. In the default study of independence of observations, the Durbin-Watson test was used, equal to 1.88 (appropriate value between 1.5 to 2.5). The default study examined the non-collinearity between the independent variables, tolerance indices, and VIF (variance inflation factor). The results showed that VIF values were less than 3 and tolerance values higher than 0.3, indicating no multicollinearity. Path analysis was used to examine the relationships between variables in the developed model, the results of which are presented in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Proposed mediation model (*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01)

The chi-square ratio to the degrees of freedom (χ2/df) was 2.82 where values below 3 are good (p < 0.05). The goodness of fit index (GFI) was 0.92, the comparative fit index (CFI) was 0.95, and the normed fit index (NFI) was 0.94 (values above 0.9 are appropriate for all fit indices). Also, the root means a square error of approximation (RMSEA) was 0.054, where values less than 0.05 are good, and values above 0.05 to 0.08 are acceptable. In general, the model fit results in Fig. 1 show that the relationship between basic needs and well-being with the mediation of Instagram addiction had a good fit. The standard relationships and significant levels of the variables in the model based on Fig. 1 were then examined, the results of which are presented in Table 4.

Table 4 Standard coefficients and significant levels of relationships between research variables

The results of Table 4 show that the direct effects were all significant (positive or negative). The negative direct effects comprised (i) autonomy need on Instagram addiction (β = -0.26, p < 0.01), (ii) competency need on Instagram addiction (β = -0.41, p < 0.01), (iii) relatedness need on Instagram addiction (β = -0.21, p < 0.01), and (iv) Instagram addiction on well-being (β =—0.37, p < 0.01). The positive direct effects comprised (i) autonomy need on well-being (β = 0.19, p < 0.01), (ii) competency need on well-being (β = 0.23, p < 0.01) and (iii) relatedness need on wellbeing (β = 0.16, p < 0.01). To investigate the mediating role of Instagram addiction in the relationship between basic psychological needs and well-being, the bootstrap method using Macro program (Preacher & Hayes, 2008) in SPSS-22 software was utilized. The results are presented in Table 5.

Table 5 Results of examining the mediating role of Instagram addiction in the relationship between basic psychological needs and well-being using the bootstrap method

Table 5 shows the bootstrap results and 95% confidence intervals and bootstrap re-sampling for 5000 samples are considered. According to Preacher and Hayes (2008), the role of the mediator variable is significant if the upper and lower limit values (confidence intervals) do not include zero. The indirect effects of basic psychological needs on well-being were investigated. Based on the results of bootstrapping (95% confidence interval), the indirect impact of the autonomy need on well-being via Instagram addiction (β = 0.10) with a confidence interval ranging 0.001 to 0.044 was significant. The indirect effect of competency needs on well-being via Instagram addiction (β = 0.15) with a substantial confidence interval ranging 0.011 to 0.039 was significant. Finally, the indirect impact of relatedness need on well-being via Instagram addiction (β = 0.08) with a confidence interval ranginf 0.008 to 0.031 was significant.


With the advancement of technology and the availability of the internet, most young people spend many hours every day on social networks. The present study was conducted to investigate the relationship between basic psychological needs and psychological well-being, and the mediating role of Instagram addiction. The results confirmed the fit of the basic needs and well-being model mediated by Instagram addiction. The results also show the direct effects of basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) on Instagram addiction. Although there have been no previous studies examining basic psychological needs and Instagram addiction, there are many studies showing that there is an association with other types of social media platforms (e.g., Devine & Lloyd, 2012; Gao et al., 2021; Liu et al., 2020; Yu et al, 2013), Instagram Addiction on well-being (De Lenne et al., 2020) and basic needs on well-being (Neufeld & Malin, 2019).

Failure to satisfy basic psychological needs leads to numerous harms, including poorer health and reduced mental well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2000). In this regard, not meeting basic needs usually leads to a serious effort to satisfy such needs. Under these circumstances, the overcompensation mechanism is taken as a serious approach to satisfying needs. Due to the feeling of deprivation and severe lack of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, individuals try to achieve their independence in different ways, prove their competence, and establish new interpersonal relationships. Social networking platforms such as Instagram – given its widespread popularity in Iran, as recently shown by Sharifi Fard et al. (2022) – are an ideal opportunity to engage in behaviors that make up for these shortcomings because the features and facilities available on Instagram overlap with the requirements to satisfy basic needs.

Regarding autonomy, due to the lack of restrictions and rules on Instagram compared to the real world, the lack of parental controls (at home), less fear and anxiety about behavioral actions than the real world and the absence of socio-cultural rules like the real world, a more favorable environment is provided for autonomy. In this regard, Instagram allows users to have behavioral and thinking freedom. When users post photos and videos of themselves and their talents (for example, sporting performances or playing music) on a personal page and are liked by others and receive positive comments, they experience feelings of competence. This process becomes a reinforcement (Skinner, 1958, 1969) for more activity on Instagram which for some may lead to the problematic or addictive use of Instagram. In terms of communication, the Instagram platform has an excellent capacity to build new interpersonal relationships (Omnicore, 2020). On the other hand, due to the cultural limitations of girl-boy relationships in Iran, Instagram has a significant capacity for forming relationships, making friends, and having romantic dates. Therefore, according to what has been aforementioned, in all three needs components, the overcompensation is a defence mechanism (i.e., a psychoanalytic and underlying factor or a process to compensate for a deficiency or defect that is felt) because unsatisfied needs, such as latent energies, are trying to be satisfied as explained above (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Instagram, with its available features and facilities, makes this situation more accessible and time-efficient. Also, meeting the needs on Instagram can increase the desire to use it as favorable reinforcement.

It seems spending too much time on Instagram also limits the opportunity for goals and personal growth (which are components of well-being) because the content on Instagram, in addition to being very diverse and extensive, can interfere with other aspects of life such as academic performance (Lin et al., 2014). In terms of self-acceptance, the present authors speculate that an individual may be looking for faces of ideal self on Instagram due to not achieving the perfect self, which, of course, can be both a source of motivation as well as recover their forgotten desires and wants, which can eventually lead to a rejection of the present authentic self.

Therefore, based on definition of behavioral addiction (Griffiths, 2005), problematic Instagram use can deprive an individual of inner freedom and affect their independence for healthy behavior in the real world as well as on social networks (Ponnusamy et al., 2020). Moreover, the well-being components are psychologically interconnected (Neufeld & Malin, 2019) which can become another way to reduce an individual’s well-being. Therefore, it seems that the core of reducing well-being through Instagram addiction, on the one hand, is the transfer of time and energy from the real world to the Instagram space, and on the other hand, disturbs the cognitive and emotional balance by impact of very diverse content with an influx of emotions and opinions about various issues that are expressed in the form of comments, stories, and likes.

In the case of explaining needs and well-being, needs are considered as the basis of well-being. For example, an individual whose relatedness basic needs are not satisfied may in relationships be avoidant or dependent, both of which negatively affect relationships with others, or a lack of competency can lead to interference with personal growth, purpose in life, and even environment mastery, because providing a feeling of competence is considered as the foundation of these three components of well-being.

Overall, the results showed that Instagram addiction had an effective mediating role in the relationship between basic needs and well-being. This means that in the case of the association (see correlation matrix in Table 3), the direct relationship between basic needs and well-being was stronger than the relationship between these variables in the model, which shows that Instagram addiction played a partial mediating role. In explaining these findings, it should be noted that the development of basic needs such as autonomy, competence, and relatedness have a positive effect on improving personal growth and interpersonal relationships, and individuals who have higher basic needs that are met are less likely to engage in addictive behaviors (such as addiction to social media networks) and that their well-being is also better.

Limitations and Future Research

The present study has several limitations. The sample was young and comprised only university students from two universities. Therefore, the model did not represent all Iranian universities or the Iranian population more generally. Future research needs to be carried out with non-student samples and other age groups. Also, the use of self-report data is another limitation of this study. Therefore, research with other methods such as semi-structured interviews and non-participant observation is recommended. Education regarding the proper use of social networking platforms (and Instagram more specifically) as well as the harmful effects of problematic and addictive use of Instagram (for example, reduced well-being) may reduce the risk of addiction. Considering the results and the negative relationship between basic needs with Instagram addiction, training and improvement in the field of basic psychological needs such as autonomy, competence and relatedness among university and college student groups would likely reduce the incidence of Instagram addiction. More specifically, the high level of the basic needs being met causes the individuals to experience fewer problems including addictive behavior tendency (such as addiction to social media platforms).


The present study was conducted to investigate the relationship between basic psychological needs and psychological well-being, and the mediating role of Instagram addiction. The results confirmed the fit of the basic needs and well-being model mediated by Instagram addiction. The results also showed the direct effects of basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) on Instagram addiction, Instagram addiction on well-being, and basic needs on well-being.