Social Networks Affect the Brain and How to Understand that an Addiction

Do you spend more than two hours in your account? Are you comparing yourself to other users? Nervous when you are left without the Internet? We understand what it says and whether social networks can affect memory and cause addiction.

By early 2022, the number of social media users reached almost 4.5 billion, and TikTok alone registers eight new accounts every second. There are undoubted advantages in online communication: establishing social ties, receiving emotional support, organizing events. However, if abused, social networks lead to dangerous consequences.

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1. Harm mental health

According to the Canadian Center for Addictions and Mental Health, the danger is when the user spends more than two hours a day on social networks.

Comparing yourself to other people who seem better can negatively affect a fragile or shattered psyche. Most tend to share only the best moments of life on social networks, which is why less confident people get the false impression that everyone around them is living a more prosperous and more exciting life. In critical cases, this can lead to the development of depression.

Another negative feeling that social media users can experience is the FOMO (fear of missing out) effect. These are anxiety states that a person experiences when seeing the “bright” life and feeling missing something. He has obsessive desires to attend all fashion events constantly, to be nervous if he does not have the Internet. The FOMO effect can negatively affect health.

2. Worsen Sleep

Another 2019 study showed that excessive use of social media leads to sleep disturbances. Screen light interferes with the production of melatonin, which is responsible for sleep, the brain and the digestive tract. Also, this hormone makes the immune system work more efficiently, slows down the ageing process, and blocks the development of malignant tumours.

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The most unpleasant light for melatonin is blue, coming from the screens of a smartphone, computer or TV, and it reduces hormone production by half compared to ordinary light.

Frequent social networks, especially at night, can disrupt circadian rhythms and cause insomnia, leading to mental problems and severe physical diseases, including diabetes.

Brain activity increases when using social networks, so it takes more time to calm down before bed. It is also essential to calmly transition from sleep to wakefulness. Therefore, it is recommended not to use smartphones an hour before bedtime and for an hour after waking up.

3. Reduce Cognitive Abilities

According to studies published in 2015, the average online attention span has decreased from 12 seconds (in the early 2000s) to 8 seconds (in 2013).

According to Facebook data for 2021, users linger on the feed for an average of 2 seconds. 

This means that if a person uses social networks constantly, he accustoms his brain to switch from fifth to tenth. Thus, it becomes increasingly difficult for a person to concentrate for a long time over the years. We overload the brain with useless information that it somehow has to process. 

As a result, when it comes time to do something serious, there may not be enough resources for it, and it will be more difficult to remember something useful.

According to research from Princeton University, social media posts increase the risk of forgetting an event. The brain decides not to overload itself since the memory remains on electronic media.

4. Increase the Feeling of Hunger

Another unexpected effect: thanks to social networks, we are more likely to eat, especially if the feed is full of photos and videos from restaurants or food bloggers. The fact is that after millions of years of evolution, our brain has not changed much. There is a theory that tricolour vision provided our forager ancestors with better survival. Due to this mutation, they could distinguish more fruits and better diversify their diet.

It is also worth considering that our brains developed when food was not as readily available as it is now. It is likely that “visual hunger”—the desire or urge to look at food—may well be an evolutionary adaptation: we learned to enjoy the sight of food because it preceded eating it. At the same time, a reflex appeared: the type of food — preparation for its intake — an increase in brain metabolism by 24% — the appearance of a feeling of hunger.

5. Cause Addiction

Social media addiction occurs because social reward mechanisms activate the brain’s reward centre. These are the same sites that transmit pleasure signals when we eat chocolate or win money.

With excessive use of social networks, such a mechanism can trigger the same processes characteristic of people addicted to drugs or gambling. The pleasure hormone dopamine will be released less frequently, which means that a person will need to collect more likes and spend more time online.

Signs of Social Media Addiction

The European Commission experts, based on the criteria for assessing gambling behaviour disorders, identify nine signs of addiction to social networks,

  1. You think a lot about writing a post or replying to comments; you constantly want to check the likes under the posts.
  2. It would help if you spent more and more time online to achieve satisfaction.
  3. When you cannot use social media, you become anxious, irritated, angry, frustrated, or sad.
  4. You have already made several unsuccessful attempts to stop using social networks control or reduce the time spent on them.
  5. You use social media to cheer yourself up.
  6. You continue to use social media despite knowing the negative consequences.
  7. You lie to others and say you use social media less than you do.
  8. You are less likely to communicate with people and relax.
  9. You are missing out on opportunities or losing meaningful relationships.

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