Social media obsession could be rewiring brains

Young people are showing “obsessive tendencies” over social media, a new report suggests

The latest Sensis Social Media Report shows that 79% of people are now using social media, rising to 99% in the 18-29 age group.

And this group is displaying a range of obsessive tendencies that raise questions around the long-term psychological impact of the growth of social media, a Sensis spokesperson says.

“We’ve seen usage jump another 10 points this year, driven by people’s obsession with their smartphones,” says Sensis Digital spokesperson, Rob Tolliday.

“But it’s young people who are the social media junkies, with most now checking in as the first and last thing they do every day.”

The 2017 study surveyed 800 Australian consumers and 1,100 businesses, and found that while Facebook remains dominant (with 95% usage), the other platforms are continuing to grow, with Instagram rising from 31% to 46%, and Snapchat use almost doubling this year from 22% to 40%.

“The bathroom selfie, food porn shot or toilet swipe are now daily habits for many young adults, with three quarters also happy to connect with complete strangers on social media,” says Mr Tolliday.

The biggest jumps this year were in the 30-39 age group (up 14 points to 96% usage) and the 40-49 age group (up 16 points to 86% usage).

Sixty-three percent of 18-29 year olds reported having been excited when their post has received more likes on social media than they expected, while more than a third (37%) have felt anxious when unable to access their social media accounts.

Nick Glozier, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Sydney Medical School said: “Excessive social media use may be re-wiring people’s brains, with every like or retweet acting as a reward and releasing small doses of dopamine that leave us happy.

“As a result we adapt our behaviour to chase further chemical rewards within the brain, and feel craving like symptoms and anxiety when we can’t get them.”

“This also has an impact on our real world social connections. We see that more than half of the population are checking social media first thing in the morning and in the evening.

“For couples, this has the potential to impact on their romantic relationships, as they are distracted from the important daily routines that maintain their emotional connection with their partner and family,” he sayd.

The 2017 Sensis Social Media Report also found:

  • Almost six in 10 are now using social media in the bedroom, up from 42% to 59% this year, and rising to 94% among 18-29 year olds.
  • Social media usage while on the toilet is now normal for 14% of the population. It is even more common among men (17% vs 12%) and 18-29 year olds (29%).
  • Males (36% vs 27%) and 18-29 year olds (74% vs average of 31%) are more likely to make friends with strangers on social media. In terms of platforms, men dominate LinkedIn (22% vs 14%), Instagram (50% vs 41%), Twitter (35% vs 28%) and Snapchat (43% vs 36%), while women prefer Facebook (97% vs 91%).
  • Four in 10 have posted food porn on social media and this is more common among men (43% vs 38%) and 18-29 year olds (82%), while similar numbers have posted selfies (45% average and 88% for 18-29s).
  • 40-49 year olds are twice as likely to have been bullied (11% vs 6% average) and the most likely to have witnessed bullying on social media (28% vs 18% average).
  • From a political perspective, ‘slacktivism’ participation has declined (down from 39% to 19%), although three in 10 (29%) have engaged with posts about Donald Trump, with 18-29 year olds above average (42%).

“Almost nine in ten people aged 18-29 have used the story functions on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram,” says Prof Glozier. 

“These features can make people feel like celebrities, and they go to great lengths to project an enviable lifestyle in order to chase a sense of social relevance and success.

“A recent US study found that narcissism is on the rise among young people, as are anxiety and distress. No doubt social media is having a significant impact, as people feel pressure to compete in a fantasy world of posts that sometimes bear little resemblance to the reality of their day to day lives,” he says.

Mr Tolliday says that “Social media is breaking down long established social norms.

“Whereas it was once considered rude to be on your phone in public, it is increasingly seen as acceptable to check social media in almost any situation, with a third of 30-39 year olds happy to ‘phub’ their family and friends at dinner.”

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