Teens’ habit of frequently checking social media has been linked to changes in brain development, a new study warns. The study, published Tuesday (January 2) in JAMA Pediatrics, found that over time, with frequent and increased use of social media, adolescent brains can become more sensitive to anticipating social rewards and punishments.
“The results suggest that children who grow up checking social media more often become overly sensitive to feedback from their peers,” study co-author Eva Telzer of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill said in a statement. In the study, researchers followed about 170 public middle school students in rural North Carolina for three years. At the beginning of the study, the researchers found that middle school students checked popular social media platforms from less than once to more than 20 times a day.
Participants then underwent annual brain imaging sessions while completing a social incentive delay task, which measures brain activity when social feedback is expected from peers. “While this heightened sensitivity to social feedback may drive future compulsive social media use, it may also reflect possible adaptive behaviors that enable teens to navigate an increasingly digital world,” said study co-author Maria Maza .
Scientists found that likes, comments, notifications, and messages on social media provide a constant and unpredictable stream of social feedback. “These social posts are frequent, inconsistent, and often rewarding, making them particularly powerful reinforcers that can drive users to repeatedly check social media,” explained Kara Fox, another author of the study.
Participants who engaged in habitual control behaviors showed marked changes in brain development. The researchers found particular changes in these participants’ brain regions, made up of “motivational and cognitive control networks,” in response to anticipation of social rewards and punishments compared to those who engaged in unfamiliar control behaviors.
The new research suggests that repeated use of such platforms by young teens aged 12 to 13 may be linked to changes in their brain development over a three-year period. Researchers say the brains of teens who checked social media frequently — about 15 times a day — were especially more sensitive to social feedback. “Most adolescents start using technology and social media at one of the most important stages of our lives for brain development,” said another study author, Dr. Mitch Prinstein, of the American Psychological Association.
He added: “Our research shows that reviewing social media behavior could have long-term and important consequences for adolescent neural development, which is crucial for parents and policymakers when considering the benefits and potential harms.” understand the use of technology by young people.”