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The Effects of Social Media on the Brain

Social media is everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, you name it. The average person spends nearly 2 hours on social media everyday, typically on those oh-so-convenient phones. Now I'm not an old whippersnapper trying to demonize social media, but take into mind the effects that social media can have on one's health.

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Social media is everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, you name it. The average person spends nearly 2 hours on social media everyday, typically, on those oh-so-convenient phones. (1) Now I’m not an old whippersnapper trying to demonize social media, but it should be known that there are effects social media can have on one’s health.

Social media is linked with depression and low self-esteem in users. Especially on Instagram, users are most prone to feeling down about themselves because people fail to remember that people tend to only post the highlights of their lives- the absolute best or retouched pictures, expensive vacations, etc. One’s social media presence is not always reflective of the person in real life. Teenagers particularly compare themselves with their peers on social media. So it would be beneficial to reduce the time spent on social media, a note I need to tell myself too sometimes.

The scary truth about social media is its addictiveness, as evidenced of how 2 hours of use a day is equal to 1 month straight of social media use every year. Psychologically dependent users display degraded white matter in brain regions that control emotional processing, attention, and decision making. Like a drug, social media can make one feel good about oneself, by getting likes, comments, or shares/reblogs. The cost of social media doesn’t seem hefty, it’s free to sign up and easy to use, and is rewarding due to the colorful visuals and allure of social approval. The more one uses social media, the stronger the neural networks the brain develops to reinforce going back on social media, as dopamine, the famous neurotransmitter, which rewards the brain with feel-good chemical sentiments.

The addictiveness of social media may play too large a role in individuals’ lives, as it famously leads to procrastination. And no, multitasking does not really exist. Switching back and forth from work or homework to checking your notifications is distracting and reduces the productivity and quality achievable from each process. In fact, the APA estimates that humans waste around 40% more time performing two tasks at once (multitasking work/homework and social media) as opposed to performing the tasks at separate times. (3)

The final hit of the eerie addictiveness of social media is the inevitable Phantom Vibration Syndrome. Up to 90% of phone users had that moment where they thought someone messaged them, but there was no notification at all. (4) Even if the phone is set on full sound or vibrate, people will still check our phone even if no sound rung at all because people are that obsessed with finding something to busy ourselves with online. A word of advice: to reduce the anxious feeling of scrolling for hours through social media, use time reducer apps like Offtime to track how long you spend on certain apps like YouTube or Facebook or even block you from using an app after a certain amount of time.

Online friendships or relationships can be meaningful, and they have reshaped the way humans communicate. Although it is convenient for humans to communicate while being physically separated, it also produces less realistic relationships. As suggested by many memes, teenagers can get “deep and personal after midnight” or people may spill the deepest secrets about their lives to each other but don’t know simple facts about the friend, like the story of how they got a cat. Of course, this is also possible with friends one knows in real life. Even so, there still may be a disconnect when talking to someone through a text versus talking in person as the delay time between messages or speaking is different and allows for more or less reconsideration for what to say.


References and Footnotes

(1) https://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social-media-infographic

(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HffWFd_6bJ0

(3) http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx

(4) https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/09/30/226820044/phantom-phone-vibrations-so-common-they-ve-changed-our-brains

1 comment on “The Effects of Social Media on the Brain

  1. Pingback: Paperless Productivity: Focus Apps – The Student Scientist

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