New Research on How Social Media Affects Adolescent Brains Is a Sad Confirmation and Serious Call-out
The research on social media and how the PARTS OF THE BRAIN react to it is still in the early stages. While these studies reflect an effort toward better understanding the effects of social media on different parts of the brain, there’s still a lot of progress to be made. https://online.king.edu/news/psychology-of-social-media/
Our society’s reality is that nearly 95 percent of teens in the U.S. have access to a smartphone and almost 75 percent of teens have at least one social media account, exposing teens to both health risks and benefits. These platforms are open ended ways to connect with peers, information and resources but also run the risk of cyber bullying and other hyped up digital aggression.
Just think, it has been only about 20 years since the internet revolution began invading so many economic, social, personal and psychological levels. Because it is so recent, there hasn’t been enough time to study the effects of this social disruption and experimentation.
But the good news is that new proper scientific research is now starting to examine the context and content surrounding social media use and how combinations of different stimuli can trigger different reactions. The rumors have come home to roost that long-term social media exposes the brain to certain adaptive behaviors.
Here are a few examples of ongoing research into how social media affects the brain’s functions in adolescents:
A. One study showed the connection to the individual’s reward system. Using MRI technology, researchers noted that the brains of adolescents while browsing Instagram, showed greater activity in neural regions implicated in “reward processing, social cognition, imitation, and attention” especially if they had many “likes” versus a few. This is worrisome to activate the brain’s reward system capable of abuse similar to gambling or narcotic drugs.
The same study noted connection to the brain’s sensory, decision-making and emotional processing areas. Certain areas reacted noticeably when teenagers felt excluded from online groups, chats, or events. This correlates with the teenagers’ pressure to belong to peer groups versus bullying or ostracism.
B. JAMA Psychiatry (September 11) outlined two types of behaviors with greater risk for mental health issues:
1. Internalizing behavior which involves social withdrawal, difficulty coping with anxiety or depression or directing feelings inward
2. Externalizing behavior includes aggression, acting out, disobeying or other observable behaviors.
C. A six-year study tracked over 3800 students in Montreal as they watched TV, browsed social media or played video games which found that the teens who spend too much time on social media or watching television become notably more depressed, lonely and sad.
In fact, an increase of as little as one hour of social media interaction from normal levels would result in a measurable increase in depression. (original investigation published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics July 15, 2019)
“We found an association between social media and depression in adolescence,” reads the report. “Based on the upward social comparison, it may be that repeated exposure to idealized images lowers adolescents’ self-esteem, triggers depression, and enhances depression over time. Furthermore, heavier users of social media with depression appear to be more negatively affected by their time spent on social media, potentially by the nature of information that they select.”
Thankfully, this research on social media and how the parts of the brain react to it is now happening, but still in the early stages and requires much more progress, especially as associations over time such as longitudinal studies over a period of few years.
Who can answer how the brain will change after ten years of social media immersion? What happens if these internal and external feelings are not addressed or re-mediated promptly enough? What happens if feelings of exclusion remain unresolved?
How can we set reasonable boundaries, maintain an offline / offline balance or intervene when symptoms appear?
This is highly relevant and important CALL-OUT
Keep researching, offer solutions to protect our teens.
Certainly, our teenagers are worth our time because we need to trust their maturation into the next generation. Who will advocate especially for our teen girls to stop their exploitation on the internet as science confirms the re-patterning of their adolescent brains?
Recently, in my first podcast interview I mentioned the new study of social media psychology. I plan to do more research to share its tenets.
I look forward to any further podcast interviews with these questions and discussions:
- How has social media robbed teen girls from the normal rites of passage between child and adult?
- There have been studies done on the development of the brain in adolescents. How does the adolescent brain process differently than the adult brain?
- In your book, there are many learning points. What would you say is the number one learning point in the story that can help teens change their internet habits?
- What is the main reason teen girls don't want to give up their internet time?
- Why do you use symbols as main characters, as antagonist vs protagonist?
- You talk about a superpower to manage time. What is the superpower tool to make smart choices versus decisions or habits?
- How can parents help their teen daughters to reduce their social media time?
- How is it possible that fake Selfies can affect our deeper cultural values?
- Do you really think that some kind of education can help fix this problem re addiction?
- What lesson plans help to practice some of the new ideas or concepts in this story?
Please request my One Page Expert sheet and a Media Sheet ( to be added shortly with interviews and permalinks.)
What kind of questions would you ask? Do you hope that scientific research will help to find a better solution? What bothers you about the teenage sub-culture?
I look forward to talking with you. Together, with science, we can find a timely solution.
Here is the YouTube link to my first podcast interview...comments welcome
Resources: Note many researchers were supported by training grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
...Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School
...Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
...September 11 in JAMA Psychiatry