Social media programs us

Staff Editorial

Generation Z, people born from mid ‘90s to early 2000’s, have been told to “watch out for social media.” But what does that phrase mean?

Watching out for social media could mean not following inappropriate pages or not meeting strangers online. Maybe “watch out for social media” means checking who follows us on social media, such as who can see our location and who views a picture of our night out. But what most do not know it means is the addictive nature and impact social media has on our brains.

A recent study performed by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) showed how the minds of the new generation are shaped by social media. In the study, 32 students from ages 13 to 18 participated using photos from Instagram. They were showed photos with a large and small number of likes. The researchers made up the number of likes for each photo; the participants weren’t told this factor until the end of the experiment. The photos were neutral, risky, or taken by the participant themselves.

“We showed the exact same photo with a lot of likes to half of the teens and to the other half with just a few likes. When they saw a photo with more likes, they were significantly more likely to like it themselves. Teens react differently to information when they believe it has been endorsed by many or few of their peers, even if these peers are strangers,” lead author Laura Sherman said.

According to Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology, “the teens were more likely to click like if more people had liked them than if fewer people liked them.”

UCLA published research of a participant using evidence from their CAT Scan, showing how the brain’s reward circuits were more active when the participant’s photos were liked by more peers. We may not completely realize how social media is programming our brain’s, nor will most of us admit it. Not only is the addiction to social media programming our brain, our brains have begun to recognize a significant amount of likes in its reward circuit. Social media has destroyed our morals as humans, but controverts us against our morals and values that we’ve been raised by.

UCLA’s online newsroom had the same teenage participants glance at risky and neutral photos. When done so, less activation appeared in areas of the brain associated with “cognitive control” and “response inhibition.”

Seeing photos that depict risky behavior seems to decrease activity in the regions that put the brakes on, perhaps weakening teens’ “be careful” filter, Mirella Dapretto, professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior claimed.

We must come to recognize how social media is reprogramming our brain; Instagram likes should not define our morals and values.