The Psychological Effects of Using Social Media
Research from Harvard University suggests that sharing information about ourselves on social media fires up the pleasure centers of our brains and may shed light on the roots of social media addiction. Activities such as creating a personal blog, making a You Tube video, downloading pictures on Instagram, and using the Snapchat mobile app to capture videos and pictures that self-destruct after a few seconds all stimulate the pleasure center of our brains. According to the research, these activities are positively associated with overall well-being, including life satisfaction, mental and physical heath, and overall happiness.
Interestingly, a more recent Harvard studysuggests that Facebook use including liking others’ posts, creating one’s own posts, and clicking on links, are negatively associated with overall well-being. One possible explanation is that individuals believe that their own life compares negatively to what they see presented by others mostly likely because people tend to display the most positive aspects of their life on social media. There is nothing more depressing than reading a friend’s posts about how great their kids are; posted pictures of the family at the beach, in the park, or on vacation, and then think about your own life where the kids are not well behaved and a handful.
Scientists believe that these feelings of wanting to do something on social media trigger Dopamine in the brain and causes us to seek, desire, and search for pleasurable activities that enhance our well-being. Dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability, by small bits of information, and by reward cues—pretty much the exact conditions of social media. The pull of dopamine is so strong that studies have shown tweeting is harder for people to resist than cigarettes and alcohol. A short text or twitter (can only be 140 characters!) is ideally suited to send our dopamine system raging.
If, as the research suggests, social media activities lead to an overall sense of well-being, (with the possible exception of Facebook in certain situations), the most likely explanation is it enhances our psychological well-being. We feel better about ourselves and, at least with certain kinds of activities, it can bring meaning into our lives.
What’s my advice about the best approach on social media? Like anything else in life, moderation is the key. Here’s a flash: There is more to life than spending 6-10 hours a day exercising your fingers. Go out and meet other people; actually talk to them (not at them), and develop meaningful relationships that can last a lifetime.
Blog posted on July 11, 2017 by Steve Mintz, Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Steve blogs under the pseudonym, Ethics Sage. Check out my website at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/.
 “New Harvard Study Shows Why Social Media Is So Addictive for Many.”
 “A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel.”