How abusing social media affects the adolescent brain

Las social media have an undeniable impact on the lives of children and adolescents because every time they start using them at an earlier age, since they have a mobile phone or get their parents to lend them theirs, and they spend a lot of time uploading content and consulting what others are doing, or interacting with friends or strangers, which which poses added danger and further highlights the need for parents to set limits.

A new investigation carried out by scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (United States) has examined whether frequent consultation of social networks such as Facebook, Instagram y Snapchat is related to changes in the functional development of the brain in early adolescence, around 12 years.

The researchers scanned the brains of the participants to obtain images of magnetic resonance functional (fMRI)which allowed them to discover that frequently updating and reviewing social networks can be associated with changes in the brain’s sensitivity to social rewards and punishments: Online likes and engagement from others. Social rewards are not limited to social networking sites, as they can also be positive feedback from peers face to face, or even receiving money. But those Facebook likes are also social rewards.

“Our research shows that controlling social media behaviors could have important and long-lasting consequences for adolescent neural development.”

We know that adolescence is one of the most important periods for brain development: is going through more reorganizational changes, second only to those we see in early childhood,” said study author Eva Telzer, a professor in the UNC-Chapel Hill department of psychology and neuroscience. “It’s a really remarkable period of brain development, particularly in these brain regions that respond to social rewards.”

Children hypersensitive to the comments of their peers

This is one of the first long-term studies on the Adolescent neural development and technology use and their results –which have been published in JAMA Pediatrics– show that habitual review of social media by adolescents is linked to subsequent changes in the way their brains respond to the world around them. “The findings suggest that children who grow up checking social media more frequently are becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers,” says Eva Telzer.

The researchers evaluated 169 selected students at public middle schools in rural North Carolina over three years. At the start of the study, participants reported how often they checked three popular social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, and their responses ranged from less than once to more than 20 times a day. Participants underwent annual brain imaging sessions while completing the social incentive delay task, which measures brain activity by anticipating social feedback from peers.

“While this increased sensitivity to social feedback may promote compulsive use of social media in the future, it could also reflect potential adaptive behavior that will allow adolescents to navigate an increasingly digital world,” said Maria Maza, a doctoral student in psychology and one of the study participants.

Social networks provide a constant and unpredictable stream of social feedback in the form of likes, comments, notifications, and messages. “These social feeds are frequent, inconsistent, and often rewarding, making them especially powerful reinforcers that can condition users to check social media repeatedly,” said study co-lead author and PhD student Kara Fox. in psychology.

Other studies have shown that 78% of 13-17 year olds say they check their mobile devices at least every hour, and 35% of teens say they use at least one of the top five social media platforms almost constantly. . The study findings suggest that 12- to 13-year-olds repeatedly check social media may be related to changes in the way their brains develop for a period of three years. The brains of adolescents who frequently checked social networks, more than 15 times a day, became more sensitive to social feedback.

“Most teens start using technology and social media at one of the most important periods for brain development in our lifetimes,” said co-author Mitch Prinstein, who is also chief scientific officer for the American Psychological Association. . “Our research demonstrates that controlling social media behaviors could have important and long-lasting consequences for adolescent neural development, which is critical for parents and policy makers to consider when understanding the potential benefits and harms associated with the use of technology by adolescents.


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