It’s true: Social media can change the way our brains work. Studies have proven that things like communicating regularly in 140-character blurbs can have a significant impact on the human mind. Everything from our ability to multi-task to our attention span is affected drastically by our constant reliance on social media for communication.
While we’re feeding our minds with Tweets, instant news updates and images we’d have been better off never seeing, our brains are rewiring based on these habits. Here are just a few of the ways social media is affecting our minds.
Short attention spans
We’ve all been conditioned to rush through life at warp speeds and expect instant gratification. Congratulations, you’ve got it. (Okay, almost.) But like all things in life, everything comes at a cost. Our attention spans have shortened dramatically in just a decade. Ten years ago, the average attention span was 12 minutes. Today, it’s just five minutes. And it’s pretty obvious that technology is the culprit, because younger people tend to have shorter attention spans than the elderly.
So what, you say? A short attention span causes a number of other effects:
- One-quarter of people forget the names, birthdays and other pertinent details of close friends and even relatives. (Hopefully not your spouse. Next time you forget your anniversary, blame it on social media.)
- Nearly one in ten (seven percent) of people even forget their own birthdays. No wonder I was confused last year when all of a sudden all of my friends started wishing me a happy birthday on Facebook.
- You might forget pots and pans on the stove. (Guilty as charged. I once burnt a pan of water.)
Frequent interruptions are hard on the brain
Repeated interruptions during the course of a task…hang on, oops, had to check my Facebook feed…results in less productivity because your brain must refocus on the task at hand after each interruption.
The average person checks his email 30 to 40 times per hour, or once every 1.5 minutes! And that’s just email. Consider the 1.5 million Twitter users who follow more than 511 accounts. Imagine the number of times those people check their Twitter feeds to make sure they’re not missing anything earth-shattering.
Chemical effects on the brain
All that time spent on social networking sites actually alters the chemical makeup of our brains. For instance, the empathy and trust-related hormone oxytocin spikes when we’re on social sites. Interestingly, that particular hormone is usually associated with face-to-face interactions. Another recent study found that stress hormones drop while we Tweet. Adrenaline is yet another hormone affected; this addictive hormone is released when we experience sudden changes in our environment. Because social media is a constant series of changes, we tend to release bursts of adrenaline while we’re using social sites. (No wonder I check my Facebook news feed obsessively – I’m an addict!)
While the real implications of these changes require further research, it’s interesting to realize how profoundly social media actually affects our minds. Positive or negative, there’s no question that the social media frenzy will have lasting effects on our culture.
For more information on the impact of social media on mind and memory, you can check out the infographic below:
Mark Carol writes for Assisted Living Today, a trusted source of information on senior housing&care, including a comprehensive directory of both assisted living and alternative care type facilities all over the US.