It’s official. Those who compulsively check Facebook, or farm the shallow fruit of the blue thumb, are operating under reduced brain function.
Get ready kids, for a study like none that have come before it: the psychological impacts of Facebook.
“But wait!” I hear you type with a manic speed, “I already know that Facebook thrives on the notions of social reinforcement and the way that the likes, raining down on my statuses, helps to tickle those notions.”
You would be correct. Many a researcher has already told you about the way social media retribution gets those glands flowing, and how said flowing of glands encourages you to scroll forevermore.
But, there is more to Facebook than its pleasure-delivering abilities.
What if I told you that the way you use social media is actually changing the structure of your brain?
A new study, published in Behavioural Brain Research, undertaken by researchers from Germany’s Ulm University, has measured the impact of excessive Facebook use on your tender grey matter.
The researchers made use of a smartphone tracking app, in order to accurately record 62 participants’ Facebook usage over the course of five weeks.
The data was then analysed alongside MRI scans of the brain’s structure, in hopes of seeing any correlation between structural changes and social media use.
They found that participants who opened the Facebook app more frequently – and those who stayed on the app for longer periods of time – had smaller nuclei in both the left and right hemispheres of their nucleus accumbens.
Nuclei are largely involved in keeping areas of the brain connected.
Professor Dr Christian Montag from the university’s Institute of Psychology and Education said that the finding is “intriguing,” with the nucleus accumbens representing a “core region of the [brain’s] reward circuitry.”
Also on The Big Smoke
- Study charting teen mental health in the social media age
- Gen X beyond millennials in social media addiction
- Thanks for the update: Social media posts proven beneficial by science
- Deleting all your friends at 30 normal, healthy: Science
“The users of the smartphones are checking their Facebook account in expectation of ‘Likes,’ nice comments etc. In general, the striatum [of which the nucleus accumbens is a main component] has been often implicated in human traits such as impulsivity and sensitivity to rewards.”
What does that mean in English? Well, it means that people who are more prone to refreshing their news feeds are typically more impulsive in the checking of their phone, in hopes of finding that elusive social media pleasure.
In other words: there may actually be a psychological basis to those who are compelled to constant Facebook usage.
After all, if a user has a physically smaller reward centre in their brain, they are all the more likely to seek their pleasure from an external source.
The same goes for the almost impulsive way those very users check their devices, in hopes of a constant stream of notifications.
Indeed, as the authors of the study say, the results are “an important step towards unravelling the neural basis of problematic Internet use.”
The authors also suggest that further research into hormonal markers such as oxytocin – which is used in social interactions – could make for additional, “interesting” findings.
Basically, we have all been successfully engineered by Facebook – nay, Zuckerburg himself – into the perfect social media addict.
You may think you’re checking your news feed out of choice, or an active desire to see what your friends are up to.
But in actuality, Facebook has dug its claws into your brain, and is tugging away at your impulses.
We may soon see a day where the only way we feel any pleasure at all is by seeing those little blue thumbs, or truly become nothing more than social media using husks of skin, attached to our manically driven minds.
God bless you, technology.