How Social Media Is Changing Children’s Brain

Around 78 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds check their phones at least once an hour every day, and 35% monitor the top five networks “almost constantly”. This is how social media is changing children’s brain.

How Social Media Is Changing Children's Brain

Here’s another justification for limiting how much time your kid spends in front of a device. According to a recent study from the University of North Carolina, social media may be rewiring kids’ brains and giving them an addiction to “likes”.

Experts believe that apps like Instagram and Snapchat may be causing youngsters to check their phones on a near-daily basis to see if their online posts are receiving positive or negative feedback. According to experts, the more frequently young people check social media, the more susceptible they become to “social feedback” in the shape of likes and comments.

Thumbs up and down, tagging, reporting content, and star ratings are just a few examples of the social rewards and penalties that constitute social feedback. Teenagers struggle to resist the impulse to check their accounts because of their growing anticipation of and sensitivity to these kinds of replies, according to studies.

“Our findings suggest that checking behaviors on social media in early adolescence may tune the brain’s sensitivity to potential social rewards and punishments,” their paper, published in JAMA Pediatrics explains. “Individuals with habitual checking behaviors showed initial hypoactivation but increasing sensitivity to potential social cues over time, those with non-habitual checking behaviurs showed initial hyperactivation and decreasing sensitivity over time.”

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Adolescence is a critical developmental stage because the brain undergoes “significant structural and functional reorganization changes.” “Neural regions involved in motivational relevance and affective become hyperactive, orienting teens to rewarding stimuli in their environment, particularly from peers,” the authors say.

Children scanning social media 15 times daily at highest risk

Over a three-year period, the researchers looked at 169 adolescents from three North Carolina public middle schools. Everyone who took part disclosed how frequently they checked the well-known social media sites Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. A few people acknowledged to doing it more than 20 times per day. They also participated in a test called the Social Incentive Delay, where their brain activity was monitored while they anticipated getting social rewards and avoiding social penalties.

According to earlier studies, 78 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds check their phones at least once an hour every day, and 35% monitor the top five networks “almost constantly”. The authors of this study note that students who used social media at least 15 times per day were the most susceptible to social feedback.

“The findings suggest that children who grow up checking social media more often are becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers,” says Eva Telzer, a corresponding author and professor in UNC-Chapel Hill’s psychology and neuroscience department.

Social media platforms provide adolescents with unprecedented opportunities for social interactions during a critical developmental period when the brain is especially sensitive to social feedback,” the study concludes. This longitudinal cohort study reveals that early teenage social media behavior may be connected with changes in neural development, particularly neural sensitivity to prospective social input.

Approximately 37% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have experienced online bullying, and 30% have experienced it more than once. As accessibility to the internet increases in this day and age and social media becomes more prevalent, these figures are only set to go up.

“Further research examining long-term prospective associations between social media use, adolescent neural development, and psychological adjustment is needed to understand the effects of a ubiquitous influence on development for today’s adolescents,” they add.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Winston Family Foundation.

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