How Social Media Affects Young Brains Constant Approval Metrics Are

How Social Media Affects Young Brains: “Constant Approval Metrics Are Unprecedented in Our Species”

Aitana Talens, 20 years old, doesn't want to make a revolution against technology. She's not angry at Meta, Instagram's parent company, for failing to respond, despite knowing for years the impact its algorithm has on the emotional stability of minors, especially girls. Aitana's thing is pure pragmatism: her Instagram account was deactivated because she felt that her plans were conditioned and that if she did something and did not upload it to the network, it would be as if she had not done it. “My self-esteem was affected, there's a lot of pressure, you compare yourself and I didn't like how it affected me.” She downloaded the application at the age of 15 and when she was 19 she started to realize that the need arose to do “a thousand things” and felt manipulated. “You strive for constant social validation and lose focus on what’s important. On my recent travels, I've seen my friends constantly taking photos and debating which one to post. Are we seriously going to the sites to see who uploads best? Photo? ? It's difficult to get out of this inertia, but I don't want to live like that.

Young people's discomfort and possible association with technology use have been the focus of academics and health professionals for a decade. The scientific debate about whether the connection between increasing mental health problems and the use of social networks is a cause-and-effect relationship is not yet resolved and further research is needed. The United States is leading the way in finding answers and also demanding accountability from platforms.

The most recent fact is the lawsuit filed last October by the attorneys general of 41 states against Meta – which includes Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger – for developing products deliberately aimed at engaging children, although the company has declared that its social networks are safe for minors. “Infinite scrolling, ephemeral content, autoplay, quantification and visualization of likes, and intrusive alerts are all used unfairly and/or excessively to provide additional time and money to young users whose developing brains are not “prepared to withstand these manipulative tactics.” “To attract attention,” says the statement. The lawsuit describes compelling reasons.

In the field of research, Mitch Prenstein, a member of the American Psychological Association and co-author of one of the recent studies on the effects of social networks on minors through brain scan tests, recognizes that “it is still not clear” knows “what effects there are between the use of technology and brain development,” but makes it clear that there is evidence that children under 12 who regularly check their notifications are hypersensitive to the reactions of their peers. “The region of the brain that appears to be activated when using social media is full of dopamine and oxytocin receptors. Features like likes and new followers activate this region,” he tells this newspaper.

Last May, the top health expert in Joe Biden's cabinet, Dr. Vivek Murthy to limit the use of social networks to young people and expressed concern in a report about the possible impact of digital abuse on the brain development of minors.

Sandra Gómez, a 20-year-old from Madrid who is taking part in a university exchange in San Francisco (USA) this year, is among the young people who have temporarily blocked her Instagram account for three or four months. “When people look for you in the magnifying glass, they can't find you, when they've tagged you in a photo, that information disappears, as do the comments you posted… it's a way to detoxify yourself,” he says . Instagram causes emotional problems. “If you look at my profile, I look like a super happy person, with lots of friends, no one would think that I was diagnosed with depression and chronic anxiety disorder… Waves of sadness come over me, I see everything black, And my Profile is super colorful, everything is beautiful, very nice photos… I feel like I'm fooling the world and then deactivating it.”

Sandra Gómez, 20, keeps temporarily deactivating her Instagram account.Sandra Gómez, 20, keeps temporarily deactivating her Instagram account.

This not only eats up a lot of time – during exams he accidentally dedicated nine hours a day to the social network – but also leads to him comparing himself toxically with others. “You are not satisfied with your life, you do not value what you have and you want what others have, that is absurd.” Another effect is the “productivity syndrome” when you lie on the couch at home, photos of seeing what others are doing and feeling like you should be on the streets, that you're wasting your life. When a user tries to deactivate Instagram, multiple tabs appear, Meta wants to know the reason: Do you need a break? Personal reasons? it says, among other things. “You never take it off completely,” Sandra admits.

Incapable of self-regulation

Researcher Mitch Prenstein, who spoke before the US Senate last February to expose the online dangers faced by minors, called for more funding to analyze the impact of social networks on the mental health of young people – recently the US -Congress prepared 15 million dollars, but according to the psychologist at least 100 million are needed and new regulations that allow independent researchers to access data to understand how the algorithms work. “Interactions in adolescence with peers are not just for fun, they have a significant impact on cognitive development, through them they learn social codes and rules, norms and expectations, they develop their moral sense and to the extent that these reinforce behaviors or corrected, “This influences the development of their behavior in adulthood,” the researcher from the University of North Carolina explained to the Senate, after emphasizing that these experiences with the technology involved influence the development of their brain structures and even the response of their nervous system can change stress.

“The constant receipt of feedback, comments, approval ratings, and the opportunity to be in contact with others 24 hours a day is an unprecedented fact in our species,” explains Prenstein, who highlights that “teenagers are particularly motivated to seek social rewards “Not 100% capable of self-regulation.” “Research suggests that social networks can exploit this biological vulnerability of young people,” he told the Senate.

As for the mental health impact — in 2021, nearly a third of adolescent girls in the U.S. considered suicide, an increase of nearly 60% in 10 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control — Prenstein points out that This is already the case. There is scientific evidence that young people report an increase in feelings of loneliness in the hours after using the networks. “Relationships between young people based on emotional support, transparency, appreciation or trust are beneficial, but these are not exactly the functions promoted by the platforms that promote anonymity, depersonalization and interest in one's own metrics instead of relationships Praise third parties.” ”

Need for separation

In Spain, the Ministry of Health considers that “the psychological and behavioral consequences that problematic Internet use causes among young people require an effective response,” but admits that “one of the major challenges” is “having data.” . The answers from minors between the ages of 12 and 18 are currently available as to whether they use the Internet “problematically”: 18% of the 12- and 13-year-old girls surveyed answered “yes,” while the figure for boys was 11%. 25.9% of 14 to 18 year olds said yes, and 20.5% of boys said yes.

María Salmerón, from the Digital Health Group of the Spanish Pediatric Association, says that in Spain there are few pediatricians and psychiatrists dedicated to measuring the impact of technology on the health of minors. “It is not a profitable issue and the concern arose about five years ago. Clearly resources and clear lines of investigation are needed.” In consultation – she works at the Ruber International Clinic in Madrid – they are increasingly seeing pathologies related to the consumption of online content in younger children. “We're talking about self-harm, porn use or compulsive online shopping…Now that we know there's a connection, topics like watching self-harm videos on loop or abusing drugs, social media and the rise in depression.” are increasingly being studied at the international level.

Alicia Banderas, health psychologist and author of “Talk to Them About Screens and Social Networks” (Lunwerg), points to a 2017 study by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom that determined the exact impact of social networks The mental health, emotional and physiological well-being of young people is unclear and much of the available evidence is contradictory. The same document highlighted some of the impacts observed in the consultation, such as increases in feelings of anxiety and depression – up 70% in young Brits over the last 25 years – and sleep problems.

Most of his patients are girls who suffer from excessive presence on social networks. “All the cases have a common feature: they are people with a basic need or lack, young people with a tendency to fear since childhood… in all cases the networks have a multiplying effect on many symptoms and disorders, on emotions that…” “They already brought that with them,” explains the psychologist. In all of them they see harmful emotions such as envy, hatred, resentment… Instagram leads them to devalue their lives, which can never compete with what others publish. The pattern is similar: you upload a photo, you don't feel comfortable with a part of your body, and you have an anxiety crisis with heart palpitations and even crying. “Some suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, which leads them to search for perfection that is always unattainable. They might start with their nose and then change focus.”

A recent study by the FAD Juventud Foundation – founded in 1986 to prevent drug use among young people and currently focused on sociological research into their lifestyles and habits – shows that the majority of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 recognize that, in recent times Year, Have you ever felt so overwhelmed using the Internet or social networks that you had to disconnect? A curious fact emerges from this report: the youngest (15-19) feel the least full. “It appears that at this stage they are becoming increasingly more tolerant of spending time on social networks, from 23.6% in 2015 for the 16-20 age group to currently 37.9% for the 16-20 age group 15 to 19 year olds,” says Beatriz Martín. General Director of FAD. Their data confirms that it is girls who say they spend “too much time” on social networks. 23% said they constantly fear receiving likes to get their way.

“In our studies we see an influence of the filters on self-esteem, physical attractiveness is confused with personal value… A scientific-medical or neurological analysis is not necessary to understand that there are psychosocial effects, we already have them here , “Martin Graben.

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