15 Jul The social media drug
This just in: People really like using social media to interact. Oh wait, you probably already knew that. In fact, you’re probably one of those people.
To put it in perspective, there are about 7 billion people on the planet. Facebook signed up one billion users in slightly more than eight years of existence.
Have you ever wondered why these sites are so popular? As with any observable global phenomenon, scientists and researchers have been furiously trying to answer that very question. At first glance, some of the results seem shocking.
For instance, a survey conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business concluded that resisting the urge to use social media is tougher than resisting the urge to sleep. Granted, there is often little reason to resist, because it takes minimal effort to check Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
However, there appear to be physiological forces driving social media use. According to Harvard University research, self-disclosure spurs the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with rewarding feelings. The same study cites research that found 80% of social media posts are self-reflective, compared to 30-40% of speech during verbal conversation.
So just like Twizzlers “make mouths happy,” Facebook makes brains happy.
Can we believe everything our friends and family post on social media? What happens when a simple exaggeration of the truth develops to the point of creating a whole new persona, only existing in the digital world?
It seems everyone you know is bragging about their lives on Facebook and Instagram. Whether it’s photos of ‘super healthy food’ or posts boasting of a promotion – people strive to project an image of perfection.
That probably explains why a short movie entitled: What’s on your mind? has gone viral.
The film, made by HigtonBros – three brothers in Norway – tells the story of a man faking going for long runs, hitting the town and quitting his job – all in a bid to gain ‘likes’ from his friends online. It’s now had more than 10 million views.
The rise of social media and the ‘humble brag’ has been cited in recent studies as a contributing factor to the increased pressure people, old and young, feel to live a perfect life and have the perfect body.
Embellishing the truth to impress friends on sites like Facebook may implant false memories, psychologists have also warned.
A fifth of young people admit their online profile bears little resemblance to reality, and that their recollection of past events has been distorted by their own fabrications.
Young adults, aged between 18 and 24, say they frequently lie about their relationships, promotions at work and holidays.
Previous research has suggested that social networks are damaging to autobiographical memory.
Psychologist Dr Richard Sherry, a founding member of the Society for Neuropsychoanalysis, said, warned last month that it could also lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness.
“Being competitive and wanting to put our best face forward – seeking support or empathy from our peers- is entirely understandable,” said Dr Sherry.
“However, the dark side of this social conformity is when we deeply lose ourselves or negate what authentically and compassionately feels to be ‘us’; to the degree that we no longer recognise the experience, our voice, the memory or even the view of ourselves.
“When this starts to happen, feelings of guilt and distaste towards ourselves can create a cognitive trap of alienation and possibly even a sense of disconnection and paranoia.”
Dr Sherry said that social media had the power to ‘undermine the coherence between our real, lived lives and memories.’
The study was commissioned by the world’s first anonymous online journal repository Pencourage which aims to preserve true life chronicles by allowing users to anonymously post 200 words every day to their personal journal.
Dr Sherry added: “Studies show that memories are actually modified and less accurate whenever we ‘retrieve’ them from our minds, to the point of entirely changing their nature over time.
“So recording our experiences through whatever medium, to later reminisce or revisit lessons we learned, is not only acceptable but desirable. In fact, looking back at our own past – however embarrassing or uncomfortable – is not just healthy but can be enjoyable.”