New Study Shows What Happens To Teenage Brains While On Social media


A study published in Psychological Science has shown what happens to teen brains when on social media.

The new study showed that brain circuits attributed to gambling and chocolate are activated when the teenager is making use of social media.

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The study which was carried out in UCLA scanned teenage brains, where the teenagers were aged between 13 and 18 while they looked at a social network that resembled Instagram.

The teenagers considered 148 photos for around 10 minutes, inclusive of 40 they had submitted themselves, all the while undergoing MRI scans.

Each photo considered had a number of interactions it had received from other ‘participants’ also on display, but the interactions were in reality assigned by the researchers.

As the teen brains registered the likes on their own photo, lead researcher Lauren Sherman, tells how “activity across a wide variety of regions in the brain” was seen. According to her;

“A region that was especially active was a part of the striatum called the nuclear accumbens, part of the brain’s reward circuitry particularly sensitive during adolescence”

That was the region that was activated when teenagers saw the photos with a large number of likes, also teen brains became more activated when they saw ‘risky’ photos, containing cigarettes, alcohol or other provocative imagery, than when they saw ‘neutral’ photos.

While viewing risky photos, they had “less activation in areas associated with cognitive control and response inhibition”, including the dorsal anterior cortex, the bilateral prefrontal cortices and lateral parietal cortices.

The number of likes a photo had already garnered also had an effect on whether the teens decided to like it or not. Sherman said;

“We showed the exact same photo with a lot of likes to half of the teens and to the other half with just a few likes. When they saw a photo with more likes, they were significantly more likely to like it themselves. Teens react differently to information when they believe it has been endorsed by many or few of their peers, even if these peers are strangers.”

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The researchers also talk about this influence in the wider frame of ‘real’ life. Mirella Dapretto, who worked on the study and is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA talked about the level of conformity the study revealed;

“In the study, this was a group of virtual strangers to them, and yet they were still responding to peer influence; their willingness to conform manifested itself both at the brain level and in what they chose to like,”

Authors of the study titled, The Power of the Like in Adolescence also talked about the need therefore for teenagers to be careful with who they interact with online.