Social web disrupts brain development

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat - children and young people are increasingly hypersensitive.

The brains of children and adolescents who use social media intensively develop differently than those of peers who use it more sparingly. That's the finding of a long-term study by researchers at the University of Northern Carolina involving 169 subjects attending middle schools in that U.S. state. At the start of the study, participants were asked how often they used the popular platforms Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Their answers ranged from less than once to more than 20 times a day.

Compulsive use on the rise

Over a three-year period, the researchers used MRI to record brain activity during specific activities on the respective platforms where the participants expected social feedback from peers. "The results suggest that children who use social media more frequently are hypersensitive to feedback from peers," says lead researcher Eva Telzer. This increased sensitivity to social feedback could encourage future compulsive use of social media, colleague Maria Maza also fears.

"Most adolescents begin using social media at one of the most important stages of brain development," said co-author Mitch Prinstein, who serves as chief science officer for the American Psychological Association is active. "Our research shows that examining behavior on the social Web could have long-term and important consequences for adolescent neural development, which is critical for parents and policymakers as they weigh the benefits and potential harms associated with media use."

The majority of children are at risk

Previous research shows that 78 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds engage with their platforms at least hourly. Thirty-five percent use at least one of the top five social media platforms almost constantly. "The study results suggest that repeatedly checking social media among 12- to 13-year-olds over a three-year period may affect their brain development," Telzer clarifies in conclusion. (pte)

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