NEUROSCIENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Earlier the researchers drew attention to the internet addiction and found it in the same way that occurs to drugs or alcohol. Internet use could have negative impact on individual’s lives. Internet technologies brought several online platforms that could adversely affect the behavior of people. These include gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography and social media.

Social networking site use is a subcategory of social media use and defines as “a medium enable users to connect by creating personal information profiles that can be accessed by friends and colleagues, and by sending emails and instant messages between each other”. It is proposed that addiction to a particular internet site depends on the individual’s core characteristics and certain predisposing factors. During the past decade, social media use and its many subforms including social networking use have evolved rapidly. Recent statistics suggest that more than two-thirds of Internet users are also active social networking site users.          

Social media addiction is a growing behavioral problem that include six different features viz. salience (permanent thinking of social network site), tolerance (increasing amount of social media use is required to achieve previous level of positive effects), mood modification (mood improvement by social media), relapse (reverting to earlier use pattern after failed attempt to reduce), withdrawal symptoms (feeling nervous without using social media) and conflict (interpersonal problem caused by excess use of social media). Social media addiction is associated with personality trait extraversion, neuroticism, narcissism and altered circadian rhythm (late bed timings and rising on weekdays and weekends). There is a positive correlation between social media addiction and mental health variables like insomnia (loos of sleep), depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. The studies have shown a strong link between addictive behavior and flow experience.

FLOW EXPERIENCE: A flow experience is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”. It is hypothesized that the flow experience is a positive predictor of addictive media use due to intensive enjoyment and pleasure generated by autotelic experience (intrinsic reward) that is contributing to the development of strong social media use and addictive behavior.    

TELEPRESENCE: The studies have also found a high correlation between social media addiction and “telepresence”. Telepresence measures the feeling to immerse in a world created by social media. People with addictive behavior feel that it form a new world for them and this world suddenly disappears when they stop browsing. Few social media users, in particular those with high score for depression and anxiety, pursue this interaction to escape from daily problems and elicit positive experience often missed offline.   

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): High engagement in social media is partially due to what has been name “fear of missing out” (FOMO). FOMO is a defined as “a pervasive apprehension that other might be having rewarding experience from which one is absent”. Higher level of FOMO is associated with greater engagement with social media, lower general mood, lower well-being, lower life satisfaction, mixed feeling when using social media as well inappropriate and dangerous social media use (university lectures, whilst driving. FOMO predicts problematic social media use and associated with social media addiction.

NOMOPHOBIA is “no mobile phone phobias i.e. fear of being without one’s mobile phone. It is suggested to be included in DSM-5 and the criteria outlines to contribute this problem: regular and time consuming use, feeling of anxiety, “ringxiety” i.e. repeatedly checking one’s phone for messages, sometimes phantom ring tones), constant availability, preference of mobile communication over face to face communication, and financial problem as a consequence of use.               

Neural Correlates in Social Media:

A salient example of feedback in social media is “Like”. The research has shown that receiving positive feedback on social media is associated with activity in brain’s reward network. The brain reward circuitry includes specific parts of the brain e.g. striatum (nucleus accumbens), prefrontal cortex and tegmental area. Receiving many “Likes” on one own’s Instagram photo leads to activation at these sites. This “reward circuit” is not only involved in subjective experience of pleasure but also in recognizing, evaluating, predicting and responding to rewards.  Social reward (acquiring gains in social reputation) activates the same region of the brain that are involved in monetary reward. Though “Like” in social media is relatively a new concept, it represent an ancient human need. Researchers and anthropologists have hypothesized that the evolutionary history of the primates brain, especially the human brain, is directly associated with the importance of social interaction and group membership. The clinical studies using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to know the specific brain locations for this social reward have shown that Liking others photograph is associated with greater activation of striatum (caudate, putamen, pallidum) in the brain. Significant activation was also observed in midbrain and amygdala, regions associated with reward processing in variety of ways. Besides it has been shown that excessive usage of social media has an effect on grey matter of the brain.        

PERSONALITY & ADDICTION: Several studies have shown the influences of various factors on different types of Internet use disorders. In fact a recent study developed an affective neuroscience framework to offer further explanation to the role of personality on different dimensions of internet addiction. Consequently, the authors have found that genetics plays a role in both personality and internet addiction, and that different personality domains were associated with different Internet use disorders. Some personality traits have consistently been found to relate with problematic use and addiction e.g., high neuroticism, impulsivity and shyness, low conscientiousness, and self-esteem.

However, specific personality profiles are related to different types of Internet-use disorders. Extraverts and neurotics are more addicted to social media. Further neurotic, introvert, and conscientious people are more likely to be problematic users of Facebook. People being less open to experience, less emotional stable, and less conscientious is associated with Facebook addiction and introverted, less agreeable, and less conscientious are more addicted to Twitter. A recent study has reported higher scores of neuroticism (anxiety, self-doubt, depression etc), alexithymia (dysfunctional emotional awareness), and ambivalent and avoidant attachment styles among Instagram addicts compared with non-addicts.

Instagram facilitates its users to edit and upload photos and videos, to receive comments and “likes” from others, to follow others’ profiles, and to be followed by others. With a recently added feature, Instagram now enables its users to broadcast live streams. Such features can sometimes lead to excessive use via the constant urge to frequently share photos and videos by (a) impulsively checking the number of notifications (via likes and comments) for the photos and videos uploaded (b) excessively stalking others’ profiles and shared photos and videos.         

Self-esteem is one of the important factors that is negatively associated with social networking site use and social media addiction. Feelings of low self-esteem are related to edited self-presentation and similarly receiving positive feedback in social media increases users’ levels of self-esteem.

The time spent scrolling through social media content may be at the expense of other developmentally important activities, not only face-to-face interactions, but also homework, reading, self-reflection, planning, problem-solving, and day dreaming. Intense engagement with social media also interferes with sleep, which is related to lower satisfaction with various activities.  At the worst, spending vast amounts of time viewing others’ highly curated depictions of their social lives could make vulnerable adolescents feel terrible about their own lives. Compulsive Internet use was related to loneliness, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem. The relation between compulsive Internet use and loneliness was stronger for adolescents who were higher on introversion and lower on emotional stability and agreeableness.

Management:

There is no specific treatment or recommendation for such type of social media disorder. However, drug therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) may be required in few cases particularly those with symptoms of anxiety, depression or other behavioral disorder interfering with daily activities.

Increasing evidences of structural and physiological changes in brain suggest that the social media disorder is not merely a habit but a serious mental problem that require attention of people and healthcare personals.       

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