Social Media vs. Your Brain

With the ever-growing rise of social media, more research is being done on how increased use of social media is beginning to impact the human brain. Many of these studies have discovered social media can have harmful effects on mental health and can even rewire brains.

National Public Radio social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam performed an experiment on a group of teenagers to analyze how social media impacts the brain. She found when teenagers looked at images on social media sites that had a lot of “likes” or comments, there was more activity near the reward center of the brain. This phenomenon could offer an explanation as to why social media can often seem addicting.

According to the AsapSCIENCE video “Five Crazy Ways Social Media is Changing Your Brain Right Now,” “5-10 percent of internet users are actually unable to control how much time they spend online.”

Though this is only a psychological addiction and not physical dependence, like with drug use, brain scans of internet addicts and drug addicts displayed surprisingly similar results. Social media is a very low effort and instantly rewarding activity, and this combination causes the brain to crave more, which can lead the brain to rewire itself.

“Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent,” San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge said.

She said students who have three or more hours of screen time per day are at a 35 percent higher risk factor for suicide. These statistics are repeated, as multiple studies and surveys have shown those who spend a significant amount of time on social media are less happy than those who engage in other activities. Social media can also lead to cyber bullying and lower self-esteem.

Additionally, social media use is it harms people’s ability to multitask rather than enhance it. According to Stanford professors, social media makes people more susceptible to being distracted because it can make it harder to tune out outside stimuli.

Social media, and phone use in general, can also have a harmful effect on sleep. “57 percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991,” Twenge said.

One reason for this is that teenagers are staying up later because they are scrolling through their social media feeds. However, according to Medical Daily, the blue lights that smartphones emit can actually decrease melatonin production, which makes it harder to sleep. This light can also increase alertness, which also impacts how one falls asleep. One way to curb this issue is to power down the phone an hour or so before going to bed so the brain can power down too.

Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, so its long term effects are yet to be discovered, but researchers will continue to study how it affects brains.