Psychological effects of social media

Social media is a powerful means of interacting with people virtually. Empowered with the latest computer technologies, people can share ideas, pictures and videos and stay in touch. Social media has a global reach, giving its users the ability to connect across vast oceans and beyond.  Social media has connected many long-lost friends and family members, helped uncover lost inventions and ideas, enabled the re-creation of history and helped us understand historical contexts more accurately.  

But the internet and social media take a toll on our psyche.  

You might find that you get a nice feeling when you see notifications. This is what keeps people on the platform: They start to derive happiness from it. The opposite also happens: When we don’t see notifications, we feel sad. Social media’s bright visual and auditory stimuli also lead to increased usage when one might want to limit that.   

Social media utilizes the infinite scroll, which can cause addiction. Each time we swipe, we aren’t sure what, exactly, will appear. This works essentially like a slot machine. Even if what you’re currently viewing isn’t that interesting, there is a chance that the next swipe results in something that keeps your engagement. Because of this inconsistency (you don’t know for sure when the next engaging thing will appear) and lack of page breaks (for example, when searching for something on Google, if you go all the way to the bottom of the page, you have the choice to go to the next page), you can keep swiping and end up spending much more time on social media than you intended.  

Each time you swipe, dopamine is released. Dopamine has to do with pleasure and reward, and its release causes the user to continue to engage in the action, resulting in increased release of dopamine. This creates a cycle and results in addiction. The dopamine pathways within the brain get rewired with excess social media use.  

When we  adopt social media in moderation and use it meaningfully, it is fine and even enriching. And it’s amazing we have so much information at the our fingertips. We can learn about all the complex things that make the world so interesting.  

However, this is a big shift from prior to the internet. Social media can be useful in learning about the world, but the constant updates on people’s lives and opinions aren’t something we’re meant to experience. Seeing people on social media so often leads to us constantly comparing ourselves to them, decreasing our self-esteem. Additionally, the bombardment of gory images can desensitize us to the violence that encompasses the world, blurring the line between what we’ve accepted as normal and what should never be considered normal.  

The overconsumption of news from social media often comes at the price of mental health. There can also be a lot of misinformation spread through social media, and it’s important to fact-check before fully believing what you see.  

You may get the feeling that there is so much happening and like you have to keep up. But taking a step back and trying to understand how consumption affects  

you can help you realize it’s an unhealthy amount with no sincere understanding of the subject. With social media, you can learn about many things but in a very surface-level manner.  

Try using detailed sources that allow you to stray away from the oversensationalization. It may be a bit harder to consume, but that is a good thing. Learning typically doesn’t involve the invocation of your dopamine pathways. But you’ll come out of it feeling fuller.   

Social media has helped bring about powerful social movements and allowed people from different niches to connect in different ways.  

However, we need to understand the price and make sure we are balanced. Our phones allow us to modify our settings and set a cap on our social media use. Engaging in things that are good for our brains, such as walking, reading and painting, is much more fulfilling than scrolling for hours on end and allows us to take back our time. 

VAAGEESHA DAS is a second year college student and columnist for The Dominion Post. Information comes from: Here’s how social media affects your mental health | mclean hospital. Putting People First in Mental Health. (n.d.). https://tinyurl.com/genovsm; Unplugged. (2024, March 20). Why we cant stop mindlessly scrolling and 7 tips to beat it. https://tinyurl.com/infscrollgen