Effects of Social Media on the Brain
One thing we always look for at NJFAI is what is the impact of something on the brain. For instance with alcohol and drugs we study how it impacts logical thinking. Alternatively for video game addiction we look at what it does to impulse control.
Parents, educators, and community members continue to raise concerns to us. While many discuss drugs or alcohol, we are starting to see concerns in some new areas. For instance two of the most common topics people are seeking additional info on now is video game and social media addiction. In response we have started researching and writing about both topics.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
The University of Pennsylvania recently looked at how social media can cause anxiety. Specifically they examined the relationship between limited time on social media and the fear of missing out.
Two groups were formed. One group was allowed to continue their normal social media usage. The second group were only allowed 30 minutes per day. Researchers found that spending less time on social media results in less depression and loneliness.
These results are surprising. A common belief that spending less time on social media will increase FOMO. However that is not the case. By spending more time on social media, users are comparing themselves to the perfectly curated profiles and images others put up. Furthermore if most of your time is spent online it means you aren’t connecting person to person.
It isn’t surprising that young adults and teens are experiencing significant levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The main place they connect is online. Additionally their ability to have interpersonal communications are weak since that is something that do not practice.
Brain Chemistry and the Like Button
Often we discuss the reward center of the brain. This is an area of the brain that produces dopamine. This produces an enjoyable feeling when engaging in a pleasurable activity. For instance dopamine floods our brain when we have sex, eat food, and drink water. Alcohol and drug use produces a similar release of dopamine.
Research at Harvard shows that every time you get a social media notification it triggers a release of dopamine. So every time someone “likes” your picture of post, it makes you feel good. Therefore this makes it more likely that you will do this again to feel good again. Correspondingly this creates a feedback loop where getting likes becomes more and more important. We see this in teens and young adults. They spend hours trying to take the perfect picture in hopes that they will get likes.
Side Effects of Social Media Addiction
Spending a ton of time on social media isn’t a bad habit. It can actually have real consequences. Studies show spending a lot of time on social media can lead to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Social media is like alcohol or drug addiction. All three addictions demonstrate a faulty reward mechanism of the brain. Therefore, this leads to continuing to engage in behavior despite the consequences.
What Do I Do
Sometimes parents justify their kids’ non-stop use of social media. For instance, they say, “Well at least he’s not doing drugs.” I agree that using drugs can produce adverse effects more quickly (like overdoses). Alternatively depression, anxiety, and loneliness are not trivial matters. They are leading contributors to suicides which happen to be one of the top three causes of death among teens. Please review our other pieces on social media addiction and reach out to us here at NJFAI.