What are the Effects of Social Media on the Teenage Brain?

While researching the effects that social media has on an individual’s brain I discovered a book review on, “i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing our Brains, our Behavior, and the Evolution of our Species”. It discussed the positive and negative aspects of technology, for example it claimed that “most find this technology to be helpful; allowing friends to stay in-touch over great distances, finding information on a myriad of different subjects, discovering and purchasing rare collectible items, and even finding a future spouse…”. Technology “…can be a wonderful and almost magical tool to connect people, create fantasy worlds, entertain, and educate people, but it should not be a substitute for real human interactions”. In fact, the author states that human beings are social animals and “…we evolved over millions of years to respond to eye contact and touch and shared laughter and real things right in front of us. If smartphones are interfering with a teen’s facility for these normal human behaviors, that’s a big deal…”. The article addresses that it is important to understand the teenage brain and the “… complex changes occuring in an adolescent’s still developing brain…” in order to understand the connection of how social media affects it. Research claims that the “… brain is incredibly plastic and able to adapt – that is, physically change – in response to novel activities or environmental cues…”, which are often stemmed from social media.

Maryellen Pachler, a “… nurse practitioner who specializes in the treatment of adolescent anxiety disorders, says the glamor and gleam of social media is also fueling a rise in teen anxiety…”. She provides the classic example of how teenagers will see their friend’s on social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, “… where they look so happy, and they feel like they’re the only ones who are faking it…”. However that is the mindset of nearly every teen on social media today, for there have been “… several case studies involving formerly healthy, well-adjusted children and adolescents, who, after constant and prolonged exposure to i-tech [technology], quickly became anxious and depressed…”. The article then provides the latter argument where “… some scientists contend that there isn’t enough evidence to condemn smartphones…”. A professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke university claims that he does “… see the rise in depression, especially among girls, and [she] understands why people are making these connections with new technologies… but so far we have very little data to suggest mobile technologies are causing anxiety or social impairments…”. She presents the possibility that people are just jumping to conclusions about smartphones that could potentially “… lead us away from factors that may turn out to be more significant” as to why there is a rise in depression among teenage girls.

Not only are depression and anxiety potential factors of the mental depreciation that social media may cause to the individual and their brain. But there is also “… some research that has already linked media multitasking – texting, using social media and rapidly switching among smartphone-based apps with lower gray-matter volume in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region involved in emotion processing and decision making”. This can be identified in specific brain waves “… of children and youth who have received a diagnosis of ADHD and those who have a predisposition for developing “i-addiction…”. I-addiction is an actual addiction to technology and social media and it is compared to other types of serious addictions such as eating, gambling, drugs and alcohol. Research has linked social media and other phone-based activities “… with an uptick in feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, which could drive compulsive device use and promote feelings of distraction, fatigue or irritability when kids are separated from their phones”. Which are severe symptoms of addiction, and are shockingly similar to cocaine withdrawal effects on an addicted user. Psychologists and neuropsychologists are beginning to see that “… young people are constantly distracted and also less sensitive to the emotions of others…” when using social media and other technology. This is due the the fact that teens “… have a very underdeveloped impulse control and empathy and judgement, compared with adults…”. Professionals fear that the decrease in impulse control and other judgements “… may lead [teens and children] to disturbing online content or encounters—stuff a more mature mind would know to avoid”.


What are the Effects of Social Media on the Teenage Brain?
by Bella is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This article was prepared by a young writer through Youth Voices, an exciting initiative helping students find their own voice in the digital world.