3 Ways Social Media Changes Your Brain

Learn why you should improve your social media habits in 2023. 




By Brandon Laxton


Whether sitting, standing, or lying down, you’ve spent time scrolling through social media. Mindlessly closing one app to open another – when suddenly that “30-minute break” turns into hours.


It might seem harmless, but research says otherwise. This habit is actually a sign that social media is changing our brains. Ten years ago, we spent just over an hour per day on social media. Now, in 2022, Statista reports that number is up to three hours. That’s more than double the time we spend eating and drinking each day. As the time we spend online grows, so do the effects on our brains.


It Messes With Your Reward Center

Each like, tag, or positive comment provides immediate social rewards in the form of dopamine and serotonin (the happiness hormones). This reaction makes you feel good, so your brain will want more. Losing likes and comments can cause anxiety or depression because our brain isn’t getting that emotional rush anymore.


FOMO (the fear of missing out) also plays a big role, possibly leading to an unhealthy addiction to social media, especially in teenagers. Pew Research Center says that 97% of teens use the internet daily, and 46% use it almost constantly. Many fear that they’ll miss out on jokes, connections, or social invitations in the real world by not being online.


It Ruins Multi-Tasking and Focus

We can only focus on so much at a time, and apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook don’t help. They have an almost endless stream of photos and videos with captions, comments, and hashtags in each post. When our brains are in a constant state of multitasking, our ability to stay focused worsens.


Studies by the National Library of Medicine show heavy social media users are becoming less able to ignore distractions. These efforts to stay focused can ultimately shrink parts of the brain used for concentration, a change known as neuroplasticity.



It Causes Phantom Vibrations

Another common development is “Phantom Vibration Syndrome.” That’s when you think your phone is ringing, but it isn’t.  At the Georgia Institute of Technology, Professor Robert Rosenberger studies the impact social media has on our behavior.


Many people are so worried about missing calls or texts that they become fixated on sensations that mean one is coming. Rosenberger says simple things like body itches or clothes shifting can be easily misinterpreted as a phone vibration, supported in a 2018 National Library of Medicine study. Their research shows that 60% of medical students have experienced phantom vibrations, and 42% heard phantom ringing after high phone use.


The Takeaway

Social media is an essential part of our daily lives, but it’s important to stay aware of how it affects your mental and physical brain. So, the next time you’re endlessly scrolling through an app, stop and remember: moderation is key.