Social media has become a huge part of our lives, and we use it to keep in touch with friends, post pictures, and share ideas. It’s also changed the way that we interact with each other—and as it turns out, not always for the better. Studies are showing that social media can have negative effects on our brains by taking advantage of some of our brain’s most basic functions (like fear). Here’s what you need to know about how social media affects your mind:
The fear of missing out (FOMO), a cognitive bias that can lead to social media addiction, is the irrational fear that one will miss an opportunity for pleasure if they do not stay connected with their peers. It’s also known as “social comparison.” This phenomenon has been studied extensively by psychologists and sociologists who note that it affects people on all levels: from college students checking Facebook every ten minutes to adults who feel anxious when they don’t know what’s happening in their friend group’s lives.
The availability heuristic is the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater “availability” in memory. The more vivid and unusual an event is, or the more you think about it, the more likely it seems to you that it could happen again. This can lead to some pretty strange mental gymnastics–like when we assume someone who posts a lot on social media must be constantly busy with important stuff, even though most people only spend an hour or so per day on their phone or computer.
Catastrophizing is a cognitive bias that leads us to believe that a situation is worse than it actually is. It’s easy to do, especially on social media where everything seems so dire all the time and it feels like there’s always something wrong in the world. But catastrophizing isn’t just an annoying habit–it’s also a form of self-sabotage because it can lead us down a path of negativity and inaction: if we think things are bad enough already, then why even bother trying? Catastrophizing leads us down an endless spiral of negative thoughts until eventually we become paralyzed by them. And this cycle can be tough to break out of once you’re stuck in its clutches!
Emotional reasoning is when we make decisions based on how we feel. We tend to think that our feelings are based on the facts, but often they’re not. In fact, research has shown that people who rely on their emotions to guide them are more likely to make poor decisions than those who rely on reason and logic. This is especially true when it comes to social media; when you see someone post something negative about something you like or support, for example, your brain may immediately jump into action and start looking for reasons why this person is wrong (even though they may not have said anything wrong).
You’re not alone in feeling this way. Our brains are wired to compare ourselves to others, and social media makes it easy for us to do so. In fact, by seeing other people’s lives as more exciting than our own, we can feel like we are not enough or not good enough–and that’s no good! This unfair comparison is something psychologists call the contrast effect: when you focus on one thing (like a friend’s vacation photos), you’ll tend to see the opposite quality in yourself (for example, “My life isn’t as exciting”). This happens because we don’t notice all of our positive qualities at once–we only notice what stands out from our usual routine or perception of ourselves.
The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind. We tend to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater “availability” in our memory, which can lead to some pretty significant cognitive biases. Social media takes advantage of this by bombarding us with images and stories about people who are famous or doing extraordinary things–or even just doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways (like traveling through Europe). This can lead us astray when we try to make generalizations based on what we see online: if we see a lot of photos of friends hanging out with one another, we might think they’re closer than they actually are; if someone posts about being sick all week long and then recovers quickly from an illness, we might assume that everyone gets over illnesses quickly (even though most don’t).
The choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to remember information that supports their beliefs more than information that contradicts those beliefs. It’s easy to see how this can be problematic when it comes to social media–if you’re looking for evidence that the world is going downhill, you’re bound to find it in your Facebook feed. But it’s not just negative news stories that are affected: if you’ve got strong anti-vax views, then chances are high that any story with a headline like “Anti-Vaxxers Are Killing People” will stick with you longer than one about vaccines being safe. If this sounds familiar and not just an isolated incident of bad luck on your part (whereby everything seemed like it was going against what was actually true), take comfort in knowing there’s nothing wrong with your brain! It’s just doing its job by helping us make sense of our surroundings by filtering out irrelevant information so we can focus on what matters most at any given moment.
Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that we use to make sense of the world. These can be helpful, but they can also lead to errors in judgement, such as when you think someone is attractive or intelligent based on their appearance and what they say, without considering other factors (like whether they’re wearing makeup). Social media takes advantage of these shortcuts by showing us photos of people and things we enjoy, triggering positive emotions like happiness or excitement–and then offering up more information about those things so we keep coming back for more emotional hits. It’s like a drug dealer: give them one hit and they’ll come back for more!
In conclusion, social media is addictive because it takes advantage of cognitive biases in our brains. These biases are not a good thing when they cause us to make bad decisions or feel bad about ourselves. However, they can also be used to help us achieve better results in certain situations by influencing our behavior in ways that make sense given what we know about the world around us.