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Social Media and the Brain

Social media. This is the discussion many parents have with their children. How much usage, what kind of usage, and what to do about limiting screen time.
Why does this even matter? Adolescents and teenagers feel socially suppressed when not engaging with their peers on social media. Adolescents and teenagers maintain a communal relationship through social media, including Facebook, twitter, vines, snapchat, and more. For many, connecting through social media allows for a particular form of self-disclosure. They want to share more with the social media world. People often share 30-40% of their lives face-to-face, and online, they share approximately 80% of their experiences with others. This creates two effects. The first effect is the more adolescents and teenagers share their life, the more positive reinforcement they receive, which only reinforces their desire to share with others. When using social media, one speaks with a different voice, often disclosing information to friends and acquaintances that would not otherwise be discussed in person. People’s ability to socially and emotionally engage with their peers is inversely affected by one’s usage of social media.
Primarily engaging on social media influences brain development and changes brain stimulation and brain functioning. Engrossing oneself in social media stimulates the release of dopamine, one of the brain’s neurotransmitters, in the brain. Dopamine sends reward and gives instant gratification messages in the brain, and is associated with food, exercise, gambling, love, drugs. When people post about their lives, they receive positive reinforcement from their online social networks, triggering the dopamine release. Neuroscientists identify too much dopamine release eventually creates a dopamine triggered-behavior that can form into an addiction similar to the same chemical reaction from gambling and recreational drugs.
Furthermore, using social media decreases the activation of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex influences executive functioning skills, social behavior and social-emotional engagement with others.  Executive functioning relates to people’s ability to determine the difference between good and bad, working on prediction of outcomes, and decision making. With one’s presence primarily online, one’s ability to interpersonally connect with others decrease, which correlates with increased social anxiety.
Even though social media makes it easier to connect with others, both providing people with a means to connect locally and globally, it is important to limit the amount of time online in order to reduce the potential negative psychological effects.

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