Do you find yourself on Twitter constantly? Always checking your phone for the latest Facebook status updates or notifications? Is Instagram more like a necessity in your daily life, instead of a luxury?
If so, then your brain might be changing radically without you even knowing it.
Facebook just announced that one billion people are using their service daily. This doesn’t include the monthly or semi-regular users; this is strictly the number of people that log on every single day and interact with the world digitally, rather than in person.
Recently, a study was conducted by researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center that scanned the neurological patterns in thirty-two adolescents as they viewed a social media platform that looked similar to Instagram. When the social media program “liked” one of their pictures, the team found that various parts of the brain were activated by the reward section of the brain – the same sections that respond when we see a person we love or we find money.
What this created was a cyclical reward effect on the adolescents: as they received likes, they continued to use the service to post more pictures, thus generating more likes, and thus reactivating the reward sections again.
One other side effect was the tendency to “follow the herd” in regards to social media interaction. Participants were also shown a series of “neutral” photos that contained pictures of food and friends, as well as “risky” photos that showed cigarettes and alcohol. Surprisingly, the context of the picture did little to impact the response of the participant; the more popular a picture was, regardless of content, the more likely the subject was to like the picture.
This has fundamentally changed the way our brain operates, according to the research team. Since teens are spending more and more time online, the brain has become better at being able to quickly ascertain the status of an image, or even the social context of a group of friends, at the possible expense of losing the ability to determine subtle clues in a physical relationship.
This isn’t necessarily bad, argues the team. It’s simply a matter of our brain adapting to the environment that we put ourselves in.
By gauging the number of likes, comments, tweets, etc, our brain has been re-wired to active the reward centers by something less tangible – a purely unique component of our recent adaptation to the digital world.