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This is how "likes" in social networks affect your brain

May 9, 2021

An investigation carried out by UCLA and published in Psychological Science has concluded that the fact of seeing how photographs published in a social network are appreciated by other people via the "like" button activates the same areas of the brain that are activated by masturbation. or the fact of savoring very sweet foods like chocolate.

The Psychology behind the likes of Instagram and Facebook

This study confirms the intuition that many people had: that the functioning of certain social networks is designed so that these are true gymnasiums of narcissism.

However, its implications go much further. Let's see how the research was conducted.


How was the study done?

This investigation, carried out by the psychologist Lauren Sherman and his team, was based on the use of an imitation of the Instagram social network. Sherman and his researchers recruited 32 teenagers (14 boys and 18 girls) accustomed to using Instagram and, through magnetic resonance, they saw the way their brain activated while the young people interacted with the imitation of that social network where they could see both the images that they had uploaded and the photos of unknown people.

Each of the participants in this experiment was informed that they were going to use a social network used by a small community while fMRI images were taken of their neural activity. However, the truth is that the photographs of unknown people seemed to belong to the accounts of young people, had been selected by the research team and, in fact, these scientists were also responsible for putting a certain amount of likes in all the images .


Thus, each adolescent had the opportunity to react to 40 of the photographs from his own real Instagram account and 108 belonging to strangers. In addition, the researchers informed the participants that each of the photographs they were going to see had been viewed, valued and potentially "liked" by about fifty young people, something that was not true.

The effects that Instagram has on the human brain

When checking the images of different brains obtained by means of magnetic resonance, Sherman and his companions saw that a structure of the brain called nucleus accumbens it was activated more how many more likes an image had. This is very relevant, considering that the nucleus accumbens is responsible for experiencing moments of intense pleasure when winning a prize, having an orgasm , drink a smoothie, etc.


This area of ​​the brain is responsible for detecting peak moments of pleasure and thus has a role in the emergence of addictions and reward mechanisms in charge of trying to create situations so that these "peaks of happiness" are repeated so often as possible.

The influence of others sneaks into the digital

But this investigation also yielded another surprising conclusion: social networks can make teens more inclined to perform reckless acts , something that also happens when they are physically accompanied by other people of the same age.

In young people of both sexes who participated in the research, the regions of the brain related to self-control and follow-up of standards were relatively subdued when they saw images related to risky behaviors, such as skateboarding through dangerous terrain or driving while taking photos. .. even if they did not know the people to whom the photographs supposedly belonged. This effect intensified if these photographs had a lot of likes .

To this effect we must add the one we have seen before. Likes cause the small cerebral structures of pleasure to be activated, which can cause the well being to be associated not only with the images themselves, but also with the activities that can be seen in them.

Is there reason for the alarms to go off?

The idea that participating in a social network like Instagram can induce younger people to pursue risk is still a hypothesis that has yet to be proven. After all, what we have seen in this research are only images of brain regions activated or deactivated, and has not been experienced in real environments where young people might try to take careless .

However, these results give reasons to continue investigating in this line, even if we have the opportunity to educate and educate ourselves in the use of social networks.


How Social Media Affects Your Brain (May 2021).


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