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The Psychology of Social Media

The entrancing glow of a screen, the thrill of giving and receiving likes, the addictive cycle of scrolling—sound familiar? In the technology-oriented digital world of today, it is no surprise that social media consumption is at an all-time high, especially among the younger population. What is it about these digital platforms that captures our attention for hours at a time?



The effect of social media on the brain has been an area of interest for psychological research, and conclusions are often paired with both positive and negative implications of frequent social media use. In this article, learn about the ‘addictive' nature of social media, its impact on mental health and well-being, the advantages and disadvantages that come with a digital generation, and how we, as teens, can strive towards smart social media consumption.

“The likes, comments and posts we share on social media can often seem inconsequential, but they matter. They tap into some of the very elements that make us human, our addictions, desires, anxieties and joys.”

- Courtney Seiter, Buffer Blog


The Brain’s Reward System


As Neuroscientifically Challenged explains, dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the body) that is released by the brain’s reward system when exposed to rewarding stimuli. Research has shown that dopamine is responsible for ‘seeking’ behaviour. In other words, dopamine is a motivator that keeps one wanting and searching for pleasure, rather than causing the feeling of pleasure itself. In this way, dopamine fuels an addiction to seeking gratification.


In a case where the rewarding stimulus is social media, the dopamine system’s desire to seek is satisfied instantaneously from endless likes, comments, posts, and videos at your disposal. Susan Weinschenk from The Team W Blog describes the addictive use of the internet, Twitter, and texting as a “dopamine induced loop.” The easy and instant reward that social media content presents keeps us wanting and seeking for more.


According to TED, five to ten percent of internet users possess a psychological addiction to social media, in which they cannot control the amount of time they spend online. This is largely due to the ‘immediate rewards’ and ‘consequential craving for more’ aspects that social media interaction contains. For teenagers especially, whose brains and communication skills are still in development, the negative impact of social media addiction can be heightened.


Effects on Mental Health


It is commonly known that social media does not always promote the healthiest of habits nor the safest of environments. When it comes to the developing brains of teenagers, negative mental health risks can increase when paired with the difficulty of self-regulating screen time. An article by Very Well Family shows that the overuse of social media has been linked to mental health-related issues including an intensification of depression symptoms, anxiety related to maintaining an ideal online image, jealousy and low self-esteem when perceiving unrealistic expectations, and a decline in communication skills. Sleep deprivation, often a result of excessive social media use, can also harm a teen’s mood, concentration ability, academic performance, and overall well-being.


While there are negative risks associated with social media use, there are many mental health benefits as well. Painted Brain outlines seven positive effects that are often overlooked:

  • Creates a platform for connection, communication, and self-expression which is crucial when the barrier of social isolation is present amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Promotes accountability and motivation in achieving goals, whether it be sharing your progress or receiving inspiration from others

  • Extends the reach and social network of medical professionals, broadening the scope of their research on topics such as mental health

  • Establishes forums for social support and intervention

  • Connects groups or individuals with shared interests

  • Allows users to stay connected and maintain existing relationships

  • Gives teenagers the opportunity to both seek and share advice


While there are evident downsides to the world of social media, it is important to note that there are advantages as well. The positives can be extremely beneficial to youth, and thus the importance of safe and responsible social media use is key. As Painted Brain concludes, “Social media isn’t harmful or beneficial in itself, but its manner of use is the determining factor.”


Tips for Smart Social Media Consumption


Being aware of the dangers of social media is important, and so is identifying when you are falling into addictive habits. When used safely and responsibly, social media can be used to its full potential as a powerful communication tool, an extensive platform for youth to explore new perspectives, and a creative forum for self-expression. With that said, here are a few tips to ensure you make the best of your online experience:

  • Focus on the content that you wish to see. Social media is an incredible way to pursue your interests and explore new topics; however, be mindful of the content you are consuming. On most social media platforms, you are in control of what you view. Limit and avoid the content that creates negative feelings or habits.

  • Understand the dangers of social media and be conscious of what you are seeing and sharing. If you find yourself struggling in this area, it can never hurt to consult a parent, guardian, teacher, or trusted adult for guidance.

  • Take frequent breaks. While the world of media can be captivating and rich in entertainment, it can also be draining. Conscious use and timely breaks are vital.


As the popular saying goes, ‘moderation is key.’ Identifying and distinguishing responsible social media use from harmful is very important. Having the right balance will ensure that you are engaging in the positive aspects of social media while avoiding any damaging consequences or addiction. If you are struggling with social media addiction, Time to Log Off outlines six tips to help you reduce dependency on these platforms and regain control of your media consumption:

  • Turn off notifications to detach your attention from online platforms

  • Keep your phone away from the bedside to refrain from scrolling through the night

  • Avoid social media in your morning routine

  • Place less emphasis on maintaining a social media appearance

  • Engage in screen-free activities

  • Spend some time away from social media in a digital detox


Conclusion


Social media is captivating, to say the least. With the rise of various content platforms and the increasing prevalence of technology in everyday life, it is crucial to be mindful of the content you are consuming and the rate at which you are doing so. With social media dependency growing each day, understanding the psychology behind it can help youth strive to use it for good.



Article author: Victoria Huang

Article editors: Sherilyn Wen, Valerie Shirobokov

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