How Social Media Is Changing Your Brain
If you haven’t spent the last 10 years under a solid rock, you might have noticed a trend in how people are spending their free time, and often even their working hours. Social media has taken over. Social interactions. Entertainment. And even our brains.
As of January 2017 half of the world’s population has access to the internet, and ¾ of them are actively using social media. With big parts of our social interactions happening online, it is no wonder that the average person spends more than 5 years of his life on there. With this much time staring at a bright screen, mustn’t we ask ourselves:
How is this affecting us?
Physical problems such as inflammation of the tendons, bad posture and dry eyes are just the beginning. Heavy, and even moderate social media use changes our brains in ways that we probably haven’t even fully realized yet.
The biggest change your body goes through happens in the memory department of your brain. Several studies show that the constant assault of information social media presents results in the loss of cognitive control. This means that we are unable to sift through all the data we are receiving and determine which information is important and which isn’t. Instead, we are attracted to everything that is new and ignore information that might actually be valuable for us.
The concept of “transactive” memory, a system in which information is stored collectively within social groups, and not individually, seems to change the way we determine whether to memorize information or not. Seeing as social media and the World Wide Web seem to be endless sources of information, offering knowledge ranging from Australia to the Zodiac Killer, it seems unnecessary to even remember the smallest bit of trivia, doesn’t it? Your brain thinks the same and only actively encodes a memory if it thinks it won’t be able to access the information otherwise.
Let’s think back. When was the last time you spend more than a day without glancing at your phone screen, seeing what friends and family are up to on Facebook or thumbing through your newsfeed. Nothing comes up? You are not alone. The average person spends 118 minutes in his day on catching up with his social media. Psychological addiction to social media is not as uncommon as you might think and in some cases, can be even more problematic than smoking or alcoholism.
When you are exposed to new interesting content or receive “likes” or “friend requests” your brain is releasing dopamine, your body’s reward system, making you associate being online with feeling good, just like it does after a good work out or achieving a goal. Additionally, you are subjected to Oxytocin, a hormone that is often called the “cuddle chemical” and is best known for forming an emotional bond between mother and child after birth.
What comes along with addiction is something called “phantom vibration syndrome”. You may have already experienced it. You are feeling a notification coming in, grab your phone, and surprise, you don’t even have it on you! While almost 90% of phone users are already affected by this, it is still unclear what exactly is causing it. A possible explanation may be that part of your brain, your cerebral cortex, misinterprets outside stimuli, such as pressure from clothing or small muscle contractions, and determines you are getting a notification or a call.
But do not fear. It’s not too late to get your brain back to working standards, or even prevent all of the complications heavy social media use implies. There is an easy way out:
While it may seem trivial, taking a break from your screen just a few times a day, or for the brave, even leaving it untouched for an entire 24 hours, might be your best bet in the fight against problems caused by social media.