In the spirit of spring cleaning and in the season of lent, many people turn to digital detoxes to reap the benefits of eliminating social media from their daily activities. But what exactly are the negative psychological effects of social media and how do users get them? The more obvious, non-psychological effect of social media use is wasted time. The psychological drawbacks of incorporating social media into our daily lives are harder to discern.
Unhealthy Social Media Practices:
Self-Image & Comparison
Many social media users are obsessed with crafting a self-image online that makes their lives seem better than they really are. People want to portray their ideal selves and in doing so they have become hyper aware of how they’re perceived. Users then engage in self-comparison to see how they stack up against their peers. This practice is a primary factor in the onset of emotional distress and mental health problems.
Seeking Approval in “Likes”
Another unhealthy tendency of social media users is seeking approval in the likes and comments they receive. Positive feedback from followers serves as reassurance that the persona they’ve crafted is admired by their peers. The placement of self-approval in the hands of other users is dangerous. If users don’t get the validation they seek, it will be psychologically harmful.
Feelings of Exclusion, Envy & Loneliness
When people see others posting pictures from events or social gatherings it often triggers feelings of jealousy. It is very common for social media users to have the false impression that everyone else is happier than they are. Not only does this increase social anxiety, but also it instills “fomo” (fear of missing out) in many teens and adults. Some users check their social media channels multiple times per day to investigate if they were excluded from a social event. This tendency only strengthens unhealthy relationships with social media.
Resulting Psychological Effects:
Apart from social anxiety and poor self-esteem, social media also affects some users’ social skills, brain plasticity and reward centers. Unsurprisingly, most teens are more well-versed in digital communication rather than in-person conversations. The rise in social media is largely to blame for people’s declining face-to-face conversation skills.
Teens and adults are so attached to their phones nowadays that brain plasticity has evolved. The connection strength between neurons changes every time we learn a new skill, and social media use is no different. While our evolving brain plasticity may not be entirely bad, our social media practices may mess with our brain’s reward centers.
A study from UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center revealed that teenage brains responded the same to getting likes on photos as they did to winning money or seeing loved ones. No researchers are adamantly advising against all social media use thus far. However, they were in agreement that social media should be for social connections rather than self-validation.