Thursday, December 6, 2018

Impact of Social Media on Teenage Brain and Behavior – And What To Do About It

We are delighted to welcome Hima Reddy, Ph.D., to our team of bloggers. Dr. Reddy is a licensed psychologist and learning specialist at The Yellin Center, who will use her specialized training and experience to inform and engage our readers.

Social media is part of our daily existence. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn are just a few of the popular sites out there. A recent study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that twelfth graders spend nearly six hours per day on digital platforms, which raises the question: what does this mean for the teenage brain?

A recent study reported in Child Development looked at the results of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of approximately 61 high school and college students, age 13-21, to examine the impact of peer influence on multiple brain regions. Researchers found that both cohorts showed greater activation in the area of our brain involved in reward and pleasure, the nucleus accumbens, when they were viewing ‘Likes’ of their photographs on Instagram. A popularity effect occurs. Teens watch their photos receive a large amount of ‘Likes’ and are reinforced (rewarded) for putting up such a great picture, which explains why teenagers keep up that steady stream of photographs.

The study also examined age related differences in brain responses to social media. Researchers found that high schoolers experienced a stronger response to social reward than college students. High schoolers were also less likely to use the part of their brain responsible for cognitive control when they viewed pictures of 'risk-taking' behaviors, such as alcohol use, smoking, and partying. Researchers suggest that, “Social media tools offer an opportunity for adolescents and young adults to socialize one another to norms relating to these activities.” It is clear that the teenage brain is sensitive to peer approval and vulnerable to risk-taking. Much like the golden age of TV advertisements, social media platforms provide a visual gateway for public consumption.

The long term impact of social media on the developing brain remains to be studied. Parents and educators need to be aware that social media use becomes a habit that is reinforced 20, 50, or hundreds of times per day. Habits this strong can be hard to break.

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