A study showed frequent social media use was linked to greater sensitivity to social consequences and benefits.
Frequent use of social media by teenagers may be changing how brains develop, a new study has found.
Findings show that those who check their social media more frequently are more likely to be sensitive to social rewards and punishments, according to researchers.
“For youth who habitually check their social media, the brain is changing in a way that is becoming more and more sensitive to social feedback over time,” lead study author Dr. Eva Telzer, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told CNN.
“And this is setting the stage for how the brain continues to develop into adulthood.”
Telzer and her team conducted the study by ascertaining how routinely checking social media affected the development of 169 sixth and seventh grade students in rural North Carolina.
The students, who were all 12 or 13 years old when the study started, reported their social media usage over the course of three years and had annual fMRI scans to see how their brains reacted to positive and negative social feedback, such as a happy or angry face, displayed on the screen.
According to Telzer, it is unclear whether the neural alterations led to alterations in behaviour, such as elevated anxiety or addictive tendencies.
However, she stated that it’s important not to worry just yet, adding that while the study found a significant correlation between social media use and heightened feedback sensitivity, it was unable to conclusively determine whether one was the direct cause of the other.
It’s also not clear whether heightened social awareness is advantageous or detrimental.
“Heightened sensitivity could lead to later compulsive social media behaviours, or it could reflect an adaptive neural change that helps teens navigate their social worlds,” Telzer said.
A closer look
According to Dr. Neha Chaudhary, chief medical officer of BeMe Health and a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, social media is rife with opportunities for peers to provide feedback, whether it be through the joy of a like on a post or the criticism of a mean comment, she told CNN.
Additionally, adolescence is a period of significant brain development and high social media use.
Second, only in infancy, do adolescent brains undergo the most development and reorganisation, making them more open to environmental influences, according to Telzer.
In her capacity as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, Chaudhary admitted that she has frequently pondered how social media affects growth.
The study’s findings might suggest that social media affects adolescent brain development, but Chaudhary noted that it’s also possible that some of the students already underwent changes in their brain development before becoming more involved in social media.