Adolescents Brain Development Affected by Habitual Social Media Checking

Adolescents Brain Development Affected by Habitual Social Media Checking

Growing up with gadgets like smartphones and tablets, media has occupied a key position in adolescents' lives. Besides the psychological impact of social comparison, distraction, self-esteem and body image issues, “perfect life” portrayed on social media pages, and excessive concern with views, likes and comments, use of social media also raises concern for the effect it produces on brain activity and neural development. 

Three-year longitudinal study was conducted among 169 sixth and seventh grade students through the observation of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study assessed the relationship between habitual checking on 3 social media platforms (facebook, instagram and snapchat) and changes in adolescents’ functional brain development. 

Initially, the study analyzed  the frequency of checking social media platforms which was reported to be less than once and more than 20. While completing the social incentive delay task, the neural responses were measured using fMRI. 

Repetitive social media checking behavior produced distinct changes within the brain concerning prospect of social rewards and punishments. The regions of the brain displaying neurodevelopmental changes comprised affective salience, motivational, and cognitive control networks. Such changes can have repercussions on psychological adjustment. 

Psychological Impact of Social Media
As teens become more sensitive to social feedback, they might associate their happiness to validation received from such platforms. Further, social comparison can trigger sadness, low mood, and decrease in confidence. The perturbation associated with tech use as well as the impact it bears on neural and brain development demand active monitoring of the frequency and duration of social media usage. 

The exposure to constant inflow of information poses a great difficulty in relaxing and calming the mind. The brain starts to process the load of information which has the potential to disrupt sleep. The quality of sleep determines a plethora of factors associated with physical and mental health. 

Many people inculcate a habit of checking phones as soon as they wake up. The practice of gratitude, mindfulness, breathing in open air, and cultivating an intention for the day are being replaced by similar habits. Naturally, the more we go away from the practices that have the power to dictate the quality of the day, the more repercussions we experience on overall well-being.

Adolescent development is crucial in shaping the future life of an individual. The brain possesses the tendency to become good at whatever is practiced. For instance, the practice of habitual checking hampers concentration. The urge to check the pop-ups in the notification center diverts the focus from the task in hand. Over time this can cause difficulty in sustaining attention. 

Imparting right information through workshops and seminars can help parents and students better understand the long-term implications of social media use. Assigning reasonable limits, providing a platform to openly discuss feelings associated with exposure to such platforms, and setting examples in the home environment (for example, not using gadgets during family time) can reduce the detrimental effects that accompany excessive use. 

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Psychologs Magazine

India's First Psychology Magazine 

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