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What social media is really doing to your brain

07 Nov 2018

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Neuroplasticity at work?

These social media habits we’ve all been guilty of might be due to neuroplasticity, according to research.

Neuroplasticity is the process that occurs when the brain forms new connections in response to new situations or changes in the environment. It allows us to adapt and learn from new experiences, such as scrolling feeds on social media. While neuroplasticity does play a role in our brain’s response to social media, other preliminary studies have revealed some further surprising facts.

Struggling to switch off?

Ever find yourself mindlessly picking up your phone to scroll through your feed, even though there’s usually nothing that interesting on there? This study from the US [1] reveals how this addictive behaviour compares to those dependent on other lifestyle addictions.

It shows how web dependency has the potential to affect our behavioural and emotional wellbeing by exposing us to consequences associated with addiction, including introversion, withdrawal, craving and negative life consequences.

Phantom vibrations

Do you ever think you feel your phone vibrating or hear it beep, only to check it and find that it was all in your head? There is a name for this – phantom vibration syndrome – and it has been suggested in an article on [2] that our brains may be becoming rewired to perceive that vibration as an itch, that needs to be scratched.

Yep, our social media habits are affecting our nervous system too.

The minds of future generations may be affected

Social media is putting our attention spans at risk. That’s according to Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution.

"Children’s experiences with social media are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance,” she said.

“As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity."

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In a fast-paced world everybody is looking for ways to multitask better. Stanford University undertook a study published on [3] to demonstrate how social media may have rerouted our brain’s ability to multitask. The research explored the cognitive demands of media multitasking and found that those who had lower media multitasking behaviours were better able to filter out irrelevant environmental stimuli and concentrate on a single task.

The internet was designed for convenience and connection however it seems its ubiquitous nature is making it harder to focus on primary tasks by giving us more distractions than ever before.

  1. College students’ heavy Internet use shares symptoms of addiction

  2. Phantom vibrations among undergraduates: Prevalence and associated psychological characteristics

  3. Cognitive control in media multitaskers

Important things to know

Information correct as at October 2018