How social media effects your brain

Illustration by Jesse Zhang

Social media has become second nature – but what impact is this having on our brain?

The same brain circuits that are activated when eating chocolate and earning money are activated when teenagers see large numbers of “likes” on their own photos in social media, according to UCLA study that scanned teens brains while using social media.

Researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center showed 148 photographs on a computer screen for 12 minutes, including 40 photos that each teenager submitted, used an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner to image the brains of the 32 teenager, they split them into two groups, one were shown a photo with a high number of likes, and the other group was shown the same photo, but with fewer likes. Those who viewed the photo with more likes, were more likely to like the photo themselves, than the group who saw the photo with fewer likes.

This experiment found activity in multiple parts of the brain when teens saw photos they took receive a lot of likes. In particular, this study found an important activity in part of the brain’s reward circuitry known as the nucleus accumbens.

Lauren Sherman | UCLA

The brain’s reward circuits, highlighted in green, were more active when teenagers’s photos were liked by more peers.

According to Robert Rosenberger of the Georgia Institute of Technology, we have become so connected to our phones, they have kind of become part of our bodies. Anytime something stimulates and makes sensation in any area where you keep your phone, you might think its your phone. This is called Phantom vibration syndrome. Studies show that nearly 90% of people report experiencing these phantom vibrations.

Why you should delete your social media as reported by Jaron Lanier

  • The first reason is for your own good, its because you’re being subtly manipulated by algorithms that are watching everything you do constantly and sending you changes in your media feed that are calculated to adjust you slightly to the liking of some unseen advertiser.
  • The second one is for society, it might be even more important because it’s made people jittery and cranky, it’s made teens especially depressed which can be quite dangerous, and it’s made our politics kind of unreal and strange, where we are not sure if elections are real anymore.

What is the difference between social media and traditional media?

When you watch the television, the television is not watching you, when you listen to radio, the radio is not hearing you. And a large number of people see the same thing on television and listen to the same thing on radio.

When you use these new designs (social media searching, Youtube, Facebook scrolling..) when you see these things, you are being observed constantly and algorithms are taking that information and changing what you see next, until they find those patterns and tricks that get you and make you change your behavior.

Feelings of Happiness

Although social media can be a source of depression when users constantly scroll through posts and compare their lives, physical appearance, or activities to their friends, social media can provoke happiness. Michigan State University conducted a study of Facebook users. Users who provided empathetic support through engaging in social media posts had an increase in well-being and self-esteem, while the passive users did not. Dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that send chemical messages to nerve cells in the brain, are present when experiencing this social connection. The neurotransmitter release is associated with feelings of happiness and reward.

Self-Esteem and Mental Health

Brain size was measured

Social media could have a deep effect on your self-esteem, which could affect your mental health and even your brain structure. While getting a lot of attention and “likes” on a post causes opioids to be released and makes you feel satisfied, comparing yourself to others could have an adverse effect. As a friend of me said, “Instagram makes me feel ugly.” By comparing yourself to other people, you could be decreasing your self-esteem to a dangerous level. Over time, low self-esteem could actually make your brain smaller. A study that surveyed 92 senior citizens over 15 years and then studied their brain, scans showed that the brains of those with low self-worth were up to 20% smaller than those with high self-worth! In addition, participants with low self-worth conducted worse in memory and learning tests.

Positive effects of social media

Did it surprise you to find that it can have positive effects?

  • For those with unhealthy social media use, programs that develop “effortful control” skill the ability to self-regulate behavior have been widely shown to be useful in dealing with problematic Internet and social media use.
  • Social media is such power as it can give chances to the users to improve their skills, for which, they do not need to go out. It gives online tutorials and webinars for free.
  • It has become very easy to get knowledge from experts and professionals through the social media. Students are getting advantages of social media in order to take help. Some explore new ideas, some find information and some find new strategies to improve their work. Social media can be as beneficial for the teachers to learn new techniques to teach students with different methods. Did you know that 59% of schools say their students use social networking for educational purposes.

There are more stuff you can do with social media, like connect with your friends and family and share with them your moments, follow and share inspiring stories so that make you confident and positive about your life. It’s only about how to use it the right way.

“ If you are not pay for a service, you are the product they sell. So it ever has been. “

-Tom Webster

Thanks for reading.

Photographer | story teller | CS student

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