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Dopamine Dispenser: What Does Social Media Do To Your Brain?

Social media: It’s the digital landscape that keeps our world connected. Whether you’re in it to stay connected with colleagues and loved ones, searching for fleeting moments of entertainment or simply looking to learn a new life hack, social media is something that’s become engrained in our everyday lives. However, for all of the good it brings to the average user, it also can have adverse effects on your brain.

In this episode of the Brand Burrow podcast, Dana and Brittini of Fox and Forth sit down to discuss what social media does to your brain, how it can affect buying decisions, and a few healthy ways to browse on social media.

Dopamine Dispenser or Deterrent?

A University of Pennsylvania study focused on how social media causes loneliness and depression in 2018 examined how social media use causes fear of missing out (“FOMO”). In the study, one group of participants limited their time on social media to 30 minutes a day, while a control group continued to use Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram as usual. The researchers automatically tracked the participants’ social media time using screenshots of smartphone battery usage, and participants completed surveys about their mood and well-being. After three weeks, the participants who limited social media said that they felt less depressed and lonely than people who had no social media limits.

Psychologist Melissa Hunt led the study. She explained, “‘Using less social media than you normally would lead to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.'”

Hunt suggests that the reason for feeling depressed after spending too much time on social networks boils down to comparison. Comparison is the thief of joy. So when viewing someone else’s curated life online, it’s easy to see their perfect pictures and think their lives are better than yours.

On average, Canadians spend 6 hours and 35 minutes on the internet every day. Out of that time, about 2 hours and 5 minutes are spent on social media.

The Good & The Bad Side Effects of Social Media on the Brain.

Spending too much time on social media isn’t just a bad habit; it can have real consequences. Science shows that we are basically carrying around little dopamine stimulators in our pockets, so it’s not surprising that we’re constantly distracted by our phones.

Beyond lowering your ability to maintain your attention on any one selected topic, social media makes you addicted to your screens. It provides immediate rewards in the form of a dopamine release (AKA: the happy hormone) every time you post or get a notification from the app. This constant barrage of shallow rewards rewires your brain to want more of what caused that dopamine release, which leads to social media addiction.

Brain scans of social media addicts are similar to those of drug-dependent brains: There is a clear change in the regions of the brain that control emotions, attention and decision-making. Just like gambling or substance addiction, social media addiction involves broken reward pathways in our brains. Social media provides immediate rewards for minimal effort through a quick thumb tap. Therefore, the brain rewires itself, making you desire likes, shares, retweets, emoji reactions and so on.

As mentioned in the podcast, according to a TEDTalk by ASAP Science on YouTube, the reward centers in our brains are most active when we’re talking about ourselves. According to this TEDTalk, five to 10 percent of internet users are psychologically addicted and can’t control how much time they spend online. This same video explains that social media makes us bad at multitasking and causes phantom vibration syndrome, which is when you feel like your phone is buzzing… Even though it’s not. Despite the effects that social media and doom-scrolling has on our brains and reward pathways, the use of social media isn’t all that bad. Many people have used social media to remain connected with their loved ones, make new connections with people abroad and as a means to learn new skills. As these platforms develop, more users are taking part in staying connected, creating communities and finding other people in the world with similar interests, which in turn, is helping individuals find a sense of belonging, knowing that there are other people out there who are just like them.

Healthy Browsing Habits.

The science is clear: Too much social media can alter our brain chemistry. But there are also many good sides to social media; for example, we use these networks to stay in touch with friends and family and to connect to more people across the globe.

As for what can be done to mitigate the negative, the University of Pennsylvania study suggests that limiting the amount of time spent on social media can reduce harmful psychological effects. Live in the moment! When you’re out and about, live in the moment. When you’re doing something fun, don’t worry about having the perfect picture to share on social media. Instead, take full advantage of the moment by putting away your phone and being fully present. There are myriad positive aspects to social media including new friendships, career opportunities, exposure and connection to new cultures and movements, just to name a few. However, science tells us how important it is to be aware of and guard against, social media’s negative impacts as they are, quite literally, shrinking your brain.

The takeaway? Despite how social media may have changed your life for the better and no matter how much you enjoy carrying around a mini dopamine dispenser, moderation is key.

Looking to learn more about how YOU can leverage social media to the benefit of your business? Fox and Forth can help!

To get the full scoop on how we can help your business stand out online, get in touch with our social media marketing experts today!


Sources used in this podcast & blog can be credited to:

NeuroGrow | Cognifit | University of Pennsylvania | ASAP Science

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