The internet is a wild place that's given us many good things, and just as many not-so-good things. Whether you slot social media into either camp is entirely up to you. But one thing experts are starting to understand is how social media changes your brain. In the grand scheme of things, the virtual world is still in its infancy, which means it's likely that the long-term effects of all of this online living won't be known for decades. And, in an attempt to uncover both positive and negative consequences of social media, neuroscientists are starting to study some of the effects that online social networking has on the human brain.
One surprising finding is that the size of your online social network can actually change your brain — in a good way. "The number of social contacts declared publicly on a major web-based social networking site was strongly associated with the structure of focal regions of the human brain," a study published in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society: Biological Sciences revealed.
While social media often gets bashed for its negative implications, the study found that people with large online social networks were better at forming memories, and were more likely to remember names and faces than those with smaller online networks. So, if you have eleventy-million Twitter followers, it might actually be really good for you. But, not all of the effects are so positive, and these are some other ways social media changes your brain, according to science.
1Social Media Can Improve Your Memory
Unlike dusty old photo albums that are only pulled off the shelf at family gatherings or high-school reunions, posting photos and events on social media actually improves your memory of certain events. "Events that were reported to be posted online were much more likely to be recalled than those not posted online," Professor Qi Wang, author of a study published in the journal Memory, is quoted as saying in The Cornell Daily Sun. "This is also independent of whether the participant viewed the event to be important." What's more, social-media posts that include pictures can significantly improve memory recall.
2Social Media Can Activate Your Brain's Reward Center
Having your posts liked, and liking other people's posts, on social media activates your brain's reward center. This is one of the reasons why social scrolling can be so addictive. What's more, the more likes a post or photo has, the greater the reward. "Viewing photos with many (compared with few) likes was associated with greater activity in neural regions implicated in reward processing, social cognition, imitation, and attention," a study published in the journal Psychological Science revealed.
3Too Much Social Media Can Be Bad For Your Mental Health
While it can be beneficial in small doses, maintaining mostly online friends as opposed to IRL friends can have a negative impact on your mental health. A study published in the journal the American Journal of Epidemiology found that found that IRL interactions led to more positive feelings than online interactions. One of the reasons for this is because people tend to compare themselves to others on social media. This is damaging is because people tend to present the best version of themselves online, which means that the comparisons aren't based in reality.
4Social Media Can Reduce Your Attention Span
It's no secret that social scrolling is an ideal way to avoid what you should be doing. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that heavy social media users performed worse at being able to effectively switch from one task to another than moderate to light social media users. "These results suggest that heavy media multitaskers are distracted by the multiple streams of media they are consuming," the study authors wrote.
5Social Media Can Disrupt Your Sleep
Can't sleep? Your phone, computer, and tablet might be to blame. Medical Daily reported that the type of blue light that's emitted from your devices could be keeping you awake at night. Insomnia can lead to more scrolling, which creates a vicious cycle of wakefulness. If you want to get some serious shut-eye, experts recommend disconnecting from your devices after 9 p.m.
6Social Media Could Make You A Follower, & Not In A Good Way
Spending too much time on social media activates herd mentality. This means you may lose your ability to think for yourself and form your own opinions because you're more likely to go along with what's most popular, according to a study published in the journal Information Systems Frontiers. Basically, it's like being stuck in a virtual version of the movie Heathers.
7Social Media Can Mess With Your Nervous System
If you've ever thought your phone was vibrating when it wasn't, you could be suffering from phantom vibration syndrome, according to a study published in the journal Computers In Human Behavior. This means that your nervous system is hypersensitive and reacts even when your phone is not vibrating, which is a form of hyper vigilance.
Like most things you enjoy, social media is beneficial in moderate doses. However, it's important not to overdo it if you want to avoid becoming a member of the phantom-vibration herd, a sub culture of people suffering from hyper vigilance, insomnia, and a decreased attention span. Because, Black Mirror should just be a show on Netflix and not a premonition for the future of society.