Frequent Facebook use rewires the brain, researchers say, sparking fear that excessive social networking can cause mental and health issues.
Frequent social network use releases dopamine in response to online interactions, setting up a potentially addictive cycle, according to Steve Daviss of the Baltimore Washington Medical Center to USA Today.
“There’s good evidence the feedback we get from technology — the retweets and bings and pings that come out of the phone every time somebody sends us a text message — create a reward system in the brain that gives us a little squirt of dopamine each time,” Daviss says. “For some people, that can turn into what looks a lot like addiction. Some people have a harder time regulating their behavior in response to this reward. The ones who really can’t turn it off in their brain are the ones who start to get in trouble.”
This can cause problems for people with low self-esteem and depression, who compare themselves to others more often as they look at friends’ profiles and posts. They wait for the rush of dopamine accompanying social networking interactions, then despair when the positive feelings abate and spend hours waiting for another fix.
Social media-obsessed people focus on their online lives at the cost of normal socialization skills, and studies underline how constant Facebook posts and Twitter activity wreaks havoc on real-life human connections. Hyper-connected people let their eye contact and conversational skills grow rusty as they hone typing and hash-tagging prowess.
Larry Rosen emphasizes many of these negative effects in his new book, “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold On Us,” outlining his thesis on how technology stimulates symptoms of mental health problems. He says teens on Facebook have narcissistic tendencies, are more prone to depression and anxiety and do not learn as well as those who do not regularly use social media. His assessment gels with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Facebook depression” diagnosis.
These studies show the growing concern about how social networking is rapidly changing socialization, and the reports illustrate how spending time online in lieu of real-life interactions can make people, especially teens, feel sad and act abnormally.
“There is a genuine fear of missing out, and you aren’t paranoid. You are actually missing out on a lot of stuff that goes on — if you are not online, on Facebook specifically,” Queen’s University Media Professor Sydneyeve Matrix said, discussing the overwhelming urge to check social networks. “It’s becoming the destination. The default. For many people it’s the beginning and the end of their Web experience.”
Older studies back up claims that heavy social networking breeds dissatisfaction, as a Stanford University study found teenage girls self-reporting as less happy and socially comfortable than those who plug in less.
On the other hand, for every report about the negative impact of hyper-connectivity, there is one about the benefits, with other studies underlining online communication’s strengths as a learning tool for people with autism. Moreover, one report published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found older people who use social media have better brain activity, correlating with other studies highlighting the benefits of smartphone games and other technology for older people with Alzheimer’s.
This recent wave of studies underscores the importance of social networking in moderation, and may bolster the efforts of people trying to unplug society. Despite potential benefits, these studies show people are susceptible to depression and anxiety if they do not have a healthy relationship to social networking, underlining how important it is to study and address the effect of sites like Facebook on day-to-day lives as social networking grows increasingly prevalent.