The Psychological Effects of Social Media use

It is clear how much we and technology are increasingly merging. Social networks make us dependent on artificial intelligence that sometimes we don’t even understand how it works. Technological devices have become an extension of us, but little is said about the consequences we can suffer psychologically as individuals and society.


The influence of social networks on brain action


Social networks have a technology known as “persuasive technology”,  which means that it influences and shapes the attitudes and behaviors of users. This technology is present in our daily lives, and it becomes a kind of training for the brain, significantly influencing our attention, feelings, thoughts, and motivations. In this way, we create a neural impulse that leads us to persist in these same behaviors – regardless of whether they are good or bad for our mental health.


Nothing is by chance: the platforms we use have a design strategically developed to trigger some psychological levers. We have a user experience without our conscious perception of where and how we are being guided when navigating these platforms.

The research “What the brain “Likes”: neural correlates of providing feedback on social media” conducted by the University of Oxford pointed out that the scheme of “Likes” is associated with our “reward system” – brain circuit that is related to sensations of pleasure or satisfaction. Research has shown that this system is activated not only when we receive Likes but also when providing them.

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 13, Issue 7, July 2018, Pages 699–707


The importance of belonging to a social media group

We know that an advantage of the internet is that we can connect with people from all over the world who have similar interests. However, on this path, we come across the Feedback Loop concept, where we perceive the information presented to us to be personalized for each individual.

The software algorithms work to personalize and organize the information we consume. In this way, we get separated by bubbles where each person receives different personalized information. Thus, we become increasingly polarized, divided by completely different realities. 


Social Dilema from Netflix

Social media and its impact on mental health

Our desire and pleasure are connected with different brain circuits. The feeling of wanting something is much more powerful: even when we get what we want, we may not feel the necessary satisfaction, and we continue to search for more objects of desire. Social networks can potentiate this feeling: we always need more to get a temporary pleasure and enter a process of endless search. We continue to slide and click more and more automatically.


Our brain is powerful! We have billions of neurons that create huge communication networks and allow us to process information very effectively. However, our resources are limited – the so-called “waste of attention” remains when we move from one task to another in a short period. Social media encourages us to perform more than one task at the same time, which directly affects our cognitive control – such as weakened memory and increased impulsivity.


Like information processing, our attention is also affected by the use of these tools. The “ledge network” is the part of our brain that determines what is important – it’s an alert that we receive about threats and opportunities. Device notifications trigger this network too often, which acts as a kind of false alarm, hindering our ability to understand what is really important and triggering this sense of urgency for trivial situations.


In 2001, three researchers in the psychology area published the article “Bad is Stronger than good”. These studies show that negative information and experiences have more impact on us than good ones. “The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones” – in this cycle of negativity, it is easier to see why content that causes anger, fear, or anxiety, for example, becomes more viral than positive content.


We shape the context around us in the same way that the environment around us also shapes our brains. The incentive to debate issues regarding the use of social networks is highly relevant to us to reframe the use of social networks and overcome the paradox that accompanies their inconsequential use.