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Researchers Find Social Media Affects Amygdala in Kids

Study finds that social media apps heighten sensitivity to peer approval in social settings

A recent study from the University of North Carolina found that social media use affected the brain matter in children, particularly the amygdala, which processes reward and punishment. Per an article from Neoscope, an imprint of Futurism,

Researchers from the University of North Carolina have found, in one of the first studies of its kind, that habitually checking social feeds may change the ways early adolescents process social rewards and punishments — changes concrete enough that they can be seen as distinct and divergent neural pathways in brain scans.”

Noor Al-Sabai, Scientists Find Something Strange in Brain Scans of Kids Hooked on Social Media (futurism.com)

The researchers found that students who checked social media more frequently experienced greater sensitivity to their social environment over time. Those who checked social media less, on the other hand, grew less sensitive to social reward and punishment over time:

In short, the kids who used social media more seemed to become more anxious about social situations as they aged, while their peers who used it less seemed to became less so.”

One of the researchers, Eva Telzer, warns against making sweeping conclusions based on the study, but also noted that it is quite clear that social media use is altering children’s brains in significant ways that could have “long-term consequences well into adulthood.”

The research appears alongside growing evidence on the correlation between social media apps and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies among teens. According to research conducted by Jonathan Haidt, social media use is highly correlated with depression and anxiety, especially among teen girls. Haidt writes in The Atlantic,

Social media—particularly Instagram, which displaces other forms of interaction among teens, puts the size of their friend group on public display, and subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.”

Jonathan Haidt, Facebook’s Dangerous Experiment on Teen Girls – The Atlantic

Given the knowledge Haidt presents, it isn’t so hard to find the UNC study concordant with the general mental health trends we’re seeing today.  

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is the Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Researchers Find Social Media Affects Amygdala in Kids