Jan. 4, 2022 -- Teenagers who frequently check their social media accounts develop heightened sensitivity to feedback from peers, according to new research from the University of North Carolina.
Researchers conducted brain scans of middle school students aged 12 to 15. Those who frequently checked their Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat feeds at 12 became more sensitive to receiving social rewards from their peers. Teenagers who were on social media less had declining interest in social rewards, according to the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
It’s one of the first research projects that looked at how social media use might affect the brain over time, The New York Times reported.
Researchers cautioned against making cause-and-effect connections, since teenagers typically are broadening their relationships and being influenced by many factors.
“We can’t make causal claims that social media is changing the brain,” said Eva H. Telzer, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an author of the study.
But, she added, “teens who are habitually checking their social media are showing these pretty dramatic changes in the way their brains are responding, which could potentially have long-term consequences well into adulthood, sort of setting the stage for brain development over time.”
About 170 students in sixth and seventh grades in North Carolina were separated into three groups, depending on their use of social media – less than once a day, up to 14 times a day, and 15 times or more each day.
They had three full brain scans about a year apart while playing a computer game that offered positive and negative rewards from peers. Scientists measured activation in key brains affecting reward-processing, salience, and regulation and control.