• Rita Hitching

How Many Likes?

Updated: May 7, 2019

Are you on social media? Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TickTock, Twitter? Are you listening out for the notifications? Do you count the number of likes on a post? Are you being told to put your phone away all the time? Do you feel lost without your phone? Let me tell you about the neuroscience around social media and its impact on you. There is a growing body of evidence that encourages everyone to spend less time on social media. I’m here to present the neuroscience evidence and let you make your own decisions.

Your teenage brain is glorious - if you didn’t know that already. Neuroscience has shown that the brain goes through critical periods of growth and development - while in the womb, the first year of life, and the early years, right into adulthood. What scientists have more recently discovered is that the brain undergoes a 'secret mission' of change during the period between the ages of 12 to 19 years that is truly unique.

The International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) conducted a study of teenagers, and found that teenagers felt unable to function without access to digital technology 24/7 to manage their social relationships. Teenagers around the world reported that being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit, it is essential to the way they construct, and manage their friendships and social lives.” Social media is here to stay, and being informed of its impact on you - good and bad is important.

Social media provides many positive opportunities. You with an opportunity to create a different version of yourself online; connect with friends and family; learn and share information without the constraints of geography. Anytime and anywhere is the greatest feature of social media. You can keep in touch with people all over the world and develop new friendships with many different people with the help of social media. All you need is a WiFi connection.

Social Media Impact

The impact of social media includes how you perceive yourself after visiting sites like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. The area of the brain associated with social feedback 0n and off-line is located in the ventral striatum - an area of the brain that also includes the nucleus accumbens, and is connected to the pre-frontal cortex.

The inevitable consequence of vising social media sites is comparison. At times social comparisons are positive, and can foster self-motivation to do, and be better. If you see you friends posting that they are studying for a test, you are more likely to study too. We all want to be socially accepted and behave in the same way as our friends do, in order to be liked. The danger in social comparison is the possibility that someone else’s post may make you feel judged or dissatisfied with your own life. Regularly comparing yourself to others, in social media or in real life typically leads to feelings of inadequacy. People that spend a lot of time on social media typically feel less secure about themselves, their abilities, talents, and achievements. It always seems like others are having more fun, excitement or a better life than you are.

The research is showing a relationship between increased social media usage and feelings of loneliness and depression. Limiting your time on social media has a positive impact on your well being. One possible explanation for the benefits of decreased social media usage, is the increased amount of time available to make real life connections with others.

Social Media & Isolation

It's important to note that research is not clear as to why people that use a lot of social media feel isolated. We don’t know if the feeling isolated in the first place, makes you seek out social media to try and find a connection with others; or if social media leads to feelings of social isolation. What is clearer is that increased social media usage does not make people feel happier or more connected to others. The impact of social isolation on physical health is substantial, people that feel socially isolated and not connected to others - on or offline get sick more frequently and die sooner. The reasoning for this, is the increased production of the stress hormone - cortisol. Feelings of loneliness, are not the same as time spent alone. You can feel lonely in the company of others, particularly if you don’t feel connected to them.

A feature of social media and its impact on your that you may not have considered, and i is the impact on sleep. Most of us like to use our phones in bed or keep our phones by our bedside. The Use of social media late a night has a direct impact on the quality and length of sleep you get. Checking your social media one last time before going to sleep, may well mean that you fall asleep an hour later. Research is indicating that the use of smartphones late at night, has a greater impact on disrupted sleep than using your laptop or computer or even watching TV. The impact of poor quality or lack of sleep includes daytime drowsiness, anxiety, decreased performance in school due to impaired cognitive function and depression (see prior post Night Owls: Sleep & Brain Washing).

Moderation is key. Online social media and social networks have the potential to offer a great deal to increase human connection, but in excess it detracts time and energy from our primary needs to connect with others in real life (see prior post on Joy of Giving: Your Altruistic Brain) and refrain from using or checking social media after going to bed - its impact on the quality and quantity of sleep your body gets is negative.

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