How do social media ‘likes’ affect the teenage brain?
With teens becoming increasingly addicted to social media, it is no surprise that the number of likes someone gets on their pictures has a powerful effect on their brain.
A recent study found that getting a large number of likes on one’s photos activated the same brain circuits that are turned on by pleasurable activities like eating chocolate or winning money.
The study compared 32 teens, aged 13 to 18 years old, under magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) surveillance, a painless test that produces detailed pictures of the body’s organs and, in this case, the brain. Researchers asked teens to look at photos and the amount of likes photos received, while they manipulated the number of likes for each photo.
“Teens are heavily influenced by their peers, whether it is strangers online or a close friend in real life,” says Dr. Yazen Joudeh, a pediatrician on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “The more likes they get on their photos, the more popular they feel among their viewers.”
A large part of the brain, known as the reward circuitry, is particularly sensitive during adolescence, and the researchers discovered it was also activated when a teen received a lot of likes on one of their photos. Regions in the brain related to social behavior and visual attention were also activated.
They also found that teens were highly influenced by the number of likes a photo already had when they were deciding whether or not to like another person’s photo.
“Social media likes may boost one’s self-esteem and give teens a platform for healthy expression, but it may lead to habitual behaviors of constantly posting, seeking more likes,” says Dr. Joudeh. “Or it may lead to depression or anxiety if one is not constantly getting the positive feedback he or she expects.”
To prevent these negative effects, Dr. Joudeh recommends talking directly and honestly with your kids about social media.
“Parents should have a frank conversation with their children about the utility and advantages of social media, while also developing a balanced approach to communicating in an online world,” he says.