How Social Media Alters the Brain

In 1997, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) became one of the first online instant messaging and communication apps to gain popularity among American consumers. What attracted many to AIM was its’ customizable platform, which gave users the opportunity to highlight the best aspects of their personality through their profiles. The application transformed American culture by introducing never before seen methods of meeting and communication. Although the program recently ended its course in 2017, AIM has had a remarkable impact on the social media landscape, paving the way for many of the apps that have gained prominence today.

Modern social media applications have tremendously expanded the scope of online interaction and communication. Popular social networking apps Snapchat and Instagram have allowed users to put their lives on full display through the distribution of photos, videos and text. With the average American spending close to two hours a day browsing through various apps, it is important to consider the impact this consumption can have on the brain. 

A study by the University of Pittsburgh investigated the link between social media use and depression among adults. The study revealed that participants who reported spending more time on social media suffered symptoms of depression at a higher rate when compared to those who spent the least amount of time on social networks. Another study by the same university discovered that adults who spent more time on social media were three times more likely to experience feelings of social isolation. 

A growing concern associated with the widespread use of social media applications are the risk factors for addiction. The main focus of most social networking apps is to provide users with a platform for self expression and social interaction. When humans engage in social behavior, the brain releases a chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating emotions, pain and motivation. The attention that users receive from peers and strangers when posting online results in a similar release of the chemical. For many, social media can serve as stimuli for the brain’s reward system which can lead to obsessive use.

Self regulation can be useful in combating the effects of social media use. A study by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that students who shortened social media use to thirty minutes per day over a three week period experienced significantly decreased feelings of anxiety and depression. When used in moderation, social media can help foster social interaction and strengthen relationships.

Works Cited

Haynes, Trevor. “Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time.” Science in the News, Harvard University, 27 Feb. 2019,

Hunt, Melissa, et al. “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Dec. 2018,

Lin, Liu Yi, et al. “ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS.” Depression and Anxiety, U.S. National Library of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Apr. 2016,

Primack, Brian, et al. “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, July 2017,

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