Social media has become a big part of our lives, but are you aware of what its doing to your brain?
Lauren was one of the last of her friends to activate a Facebook and Instagram account. After being in a long-term relationship she felt that it was time to join the social network that everyone else had raved about for so long. But like many other users, she had no idea how social media could change her life and more importantly her brain function.
Social media has made a lot of aspects of relationships much more accessible, for example viewing posts from friends who are travelling across the world can make you feel more connected to them and you can easily get in touch with a quick wall post or private message. “I can reconnect with old friends so easily now and it’s so much easier to get in contact with these people,” said Lauren.
Although sites such as Facebook can increase the ease of getting in touch with others it can also fuel feelings of self-doubt and isolation. A 2012 study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that the longer people spent on Facebook each week, the more they agreed that everyone else was happier and had better lives. If someone has photos from their European adventure, or posts a status about their new promotion an individual can look at these events from other peoples lives and start feeling worthless and more people are finding it harder to log off these days.
“I’m not as sociable in person, for example if I’m at a friends house I don’t speak as much or live in the moment,” explained Lauren. “I find it hard to stay off Facebook for more than a day.”
An estimated 5-10 per cent of Internet users are unable to control how much time they spend online, although social media acts as a psychological addiction rather than a substance addiction. Brain scans of individuals show an impairment of regions in the brain similar to drug dependancy, and with social media providing a quick reward with little to no effort, it is a lot more like a drug than you think. Your brain is rewired to make you desire online attention and likes which, in turn, begins your addiction to these neurological excitements.
“I realise now that recently I have started to rely heavily on social media,” said Lauren.
It is a common misconception that people who can use online sites while performing other activities are better at multi-tasking, and studies show that heavy media users perform much worse in task switching tests. Multi-tasking online can make it harder for your brain to commit information to your memory, while also affecting the brain’s ability to block out interferences and distractions.
How many times have you felt your phone buzz, but when you check it there’s nothing to see? Phantom Vibration Syndrome is a new psychological phenomenon when you think you feel your phone vibrate, but it never did. 89 per cent of test subjects stated that they have experienced this at least once every two weeks, that’s 26 times a year! It seems that our brains are now perceiving an itch as an actual vibration and technology has begun to completely rewire our nervous systems.
Research has shown that social media also releases the feel good chemical dopamine. Scientists found through MRI scans that our reward centres in the brain are much more active when we voice our own views, as opposed to listening to others. While 30-40 per cent of face to face conversations involve communication of our own experiences, a whopping 80 per cent of social media posts are about your self. Research suggests that the more you use these sites, the more self involved you become in your posts, which Lauren came to understand after a couple of months.
Like Lauren, a lot of Australians have no idea how social media is changing their brain. But maybe after reading this you’ll think a little longer before logging on. – Alana Scott
Top photo from Jason Howie’s Flickr photostream.