The emergence of social media in our technological twenty-first century lives has completely changed the way we socialize and interact with others, making socializing easy and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, increasing our overall sense of connectedness with others.
As humans are innately social creatures, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr should theoretically be increasing our overall happiness and wellbeing as we benefit from our off-line connections. Conversely, it may be causing more harm than good.
Recent statistics suggest that our social media dependence or “addiction” is alarmingly apparent. A survey found that almost a quarter of Facebook users check their account five times or more in a day. Another alarming statistic has revealed that 25% of smartphone users from 18-44 years can not report the last time they did not have their phone on them.
It is important to note that social media “addiction” is not currently recognized as an official diagnosis, and requires further research. However, the pattern of social media and more broadly, internet use, does bear some behavioral similarities with substance addiction including; tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, failed attempts to decrease usage and impairment in overall daily functioning.
The question that must be asked is, when does a person’s social media usage warrant an “addiction” label? A defining feature of addiction is when the use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other platform significantly interferes with going about your day-to-day life on a normal functioning level and often causes the individual psychological distress. A further study conducted by Michigan University monitored how people felt after using facebook, via communicating feelings through text, five-times a week for two weeks. The study was specifically interested in measuring people’s life satisfaction and wellbeing. The results revealed that Facebook use had a negative impact on people’s life satisfaction and happiness over time. If social media engagement does not make us happier, and evidence may suggest that it even decrease our base level happiness, then why do we continue to share, like, hash tag and tweet in an addictive manner?
MRI research has shown that brains of drug addicts are not dissimilar from brains of internet users. The brains of internet users who have trouble being disconnected from the online world of instant knowledge and social connection were similar to drug and alcohol addicts, experiencing withdrawal symptoms. More specifically, research has revealed there is a biological level of reward activation, localised in the mesolimbic dopamine system that occurs when people use social media as a platform for self disclosure. Rewards, in the form of brain activation were intensified when a person knew the personal information they posted was being read by others. Essentially, self-disclosure is engrained in the human condition, and explains people’s obsession with platforms such as online social media that promotes this, allowing for instant feedback and gratification. The nature of social media use, providing immediacy of gratification and reward, especially on mobile devices, is the aspect that is associated with addictive like behaviours, in the sense that it provides a ‘quick hit’ and would result in addictive like behaviours in some people. Particularly, this may be evident with people have lower impulse control and poor emotional regulation.
What does addiction to social media mean for people?
Some individual’s are predisposed to engaging in more potentially harmful tools, such as sex, substances, food and social media, in a compulsive and addictive manner, to self-soothe. Other people may learn these behaviours, due to stressful life experience and circumstances.
It is also important to note that the nature of the relationship that people have with social media, and thus its effects, may also depend on the generation they find themselves embedded in. For people in their 20s and 30s who grew up with social media platforms such as Myspace and Facebook, they may be able to recognise that they exist in a world that is more demanding of instant gratification, more so than their parents, but feel overall they have a healthy relationship with social media, and are termed as “technological immigrants”. However, the teenagers of today face a different technological and social media environment, growing up in a technological dependent world has resulted in online social networking to be a deeply engrained part of personal identity, in the generation termed “technological natives”, and thus may have more serious implications for this generation.
As it stands, social media addiction has yet to be officially recognised as a diagnosable mental illness, but the nature of people’s relationship seemingly ranges to the boundaries of psychopathology, and deviates from ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’, and certainly has serious implications for the younger generation of people who highly value ‘likes’ a little too much to be psychologically healthy. Essentially, further, in-depth research is required to investigate the potential harm of social media on its consumers, and even therapies into treatment and prevention strategies.
Article By: Vision Counselling and Psychology, Perth, Western Australia
Web Address: www.visioncounselling.com.au
Published: 29/08/15 “Is Social Media Dependence a Mental Health Issue?”, Emma Stein (The Huffington Post), Available: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/07/social-media-mental-health_n_5268108.html (Accessed: 2015, January 14).
“Research Links Addictive Social Media Behaviour with Substance Abuse”, Carolyn Gregotre (The Huffington Post), Available: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/07/social-media-mental-health_n_5268108.html (Accessed: 2015, January 14). Image Reference: Dollar Photo Club