Home Cyberpsychology & Technology The Impact of Social Media and Digital Technologies on Brain Cognitive Functions

The Impact of Social Media and Digital Technologies on Brain Cognitive Functions

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The influence of digital media and technology on our lives is undeniable. They have brought connectivity, convenience, and speed, greatly improving our quality of life. From social media platforms to smartphones, streaming services, and virtual reality, the digital revolution has transformed the way we communicate, learn, work, and entertain ourselves. But with this technological shift comes a big question: What are the effects of social media on the brain? Can it influence our cognitive function and, by extension, our work-life balance?

Can digital media influence our behaviour and cognitive functions?

The rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, X (aka Twitter), and LinkedIn has changed how we connect and interact with others. These platforms offer so many benefits, allowing us to stay in touch with friends and family, network with professionals, and access news and information from around the world in real-time. But the fact that they provide us with all these wonderful benefits has made us increasingly reliant on them, causing us to spend so much time on them.

A survey conducted by Pew Research revealed that over 81% of teens and 67% of adults use social media daily. This widespread usage has raised concerns about the possible impact on behaviour and cognitive functions. Research has shown that excessive use of these technologies may be shrinking certain parts of our brains, particularly those used for concentration. But that’s not all; it’s also been established that the dopamine rush in social media interactions messes with our reward centre in ways that impact mood and behaviour.

Every single time someone likes, mentions, or engages positively with a post we make on social media, we get dopamine and serotonin rush (happiness) hormones that make us feel good. However, each time we notice a drop in these engagements, the brain doesn’t get the rush, and that can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, particularly among younger users. This is not to mention the effect that constant comparison to others, exposure to cyberbullying, and the pressure to curate a perfect online persona can have on our self-esteem and overall mental health.

What’s more, the addictive nature of social media can disrupt our sleep patterns, which may, in turn, impair our attention spans and reduce our productivity. Studies have found a link between excessive social media use and poor sleep quality, as the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with our circadian rhythms and suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. In a nutshell, digital media can indeed affect our behaviour and cognitive function, especially when it comes to our ability to document and retain information. Let’s take a look at some of the effects of technology on the brain.

The social-cognitive effects of digital technology on adults

The human brain is a complex organ responsible for various functions, such as attention, memory, problem-solving, and emotional regulation. As we use social media and other forms of digital technology, these cognitive functions come into play, sometimes getting affected in ways that can alter our behaviour and mental processes.

Attention

Digital media bombards our brains with a constant stream of information, which exposes them to high volumes of stimulation all day long. With repeated use, the brain may become accustomed to the rapid volume of information and instant gratification, ultimately limiting our capacity for deep, concentrated thought. Whether it’s email notifications, social media updates, or breaking news alerts, these stimuli all compete for our attention and can overwhelm our cognitive resources. As a result, many adults find it very challenging to focus on a single task for an extended period of time. This phenomenon, known as “continuous partial attention”, can lead to an increase in stress levels and decreased productivity.

Memory and information processing

The internet and digital technologies as a whole have transformed how we acquire, store, and retrieve information. With direct and easy access to the internet, we’re slowly but surely evolving to use less and less of our memory to recall facts, figures, and historical events. Instead, we can quickly search for information online and ultimately access a vast repository of knowledge within seconds. While this ease of accessibility has its advantages, it also poses risks to our memory and information-processing abilities. Research has shown that relying on external sources for information all too frequently can lead to decreased memory retention and reduced critical thinking skills.

Problem-solving

Digital technology provides us with unlimited access to information and resources for problem-solving. Search engines, collaborative platforms, and online databases – all help tackle complex problems and find solutions at the snap of a finger. But this ease of access may also hinder our ability to think critically and develop problem-solving strategies on our own, especially when they’re overly relied on. For example, depending too heavily on search engines or Quora for quick answers can discourage deep thinking. While this convenience may offer short-term benefits in the teenage and adult brain, it may also impact cognitive development in the long run, particularly in younger individuals whose brains are still maturing.

Critical thinking

Today, social media algorithms are more accurate, presenting us with information that aligns with what we already believe. While this helps filter out information we’re less likely to be interested in, it creates “filter bubbles” in our minds. This can lead to biased or sensationalized content, which can, in turn, distort our view of reality.  

Social and emotional responses

Social media platforms play a huge role in shaping our social and emotional responses. While it connects us, it can sometimes bring about feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and envy. With most users showing only the best aspects of their lives, social media can fuel unrealistic comparisons and feelings of inadequacy. What’s more, because conversations held online often lack the nuances of face-to-face communication, it often makes understanding people’s tone and intentions challenging.

Creativity

Digital tools such as Photoshop, Figma, etc., provide a wealth of opportunities for individuals to explore their artistic talents and express themselves creatively, bringing their ideas to life in digital formats. However, the addictive nature of digital activities, such as streaming movies, scrolling through social media feeds, and binge-watching TV shows, may push internet users to engage in passive consumption over active creation, stifling creativity.

Is the digital revolution a boon or a bane for brain health?

The digital revolution is both a blessing and a curse. Depending on how we engage with technology, it can either serve as a support to our cognitive abilities, helping us achieve much more within a short period, or negatively impact our mental health and overall well-being. To understand the full picture, let’s explore both the positive and negative effects of technology on the brain:

Positive effects

While there are concerns about the impact of digital media on brain health, it’s important to acknowledge the positive effects they have as well. One of the positive effects of technology on the brain rests on the fact that it has paved the way for so many opportunities for learning and growth. With just a mobile phone or a laptop, anyone from almost any part of the world can learn anything they want through platforms like YouTube, Coursera, etc. From virtual reality to online courses, gamified learning, and interactive experiences, digital technology can help us expand our knowledge, develop new skills, and explore diverse perspectives like never before.

Negative effects

Alongside the above benefits, social media and digital technology also have some negative effects on brain health, typically resulting from excessive media consumption. Spending too much time glued to screens can lead to a host of physical and mental health issues, including insomnia, obesity, and mood disorders. The addictive nature of digital media, especially gaming sites and social media platforms, can lead to compulsive behaviours and problematic internet use. What’s more, the constant notifications from digital devices can affect attention and contribute to stress and anxiety.

Top digital management tips

Social media and most digital technologies are not inherently bad, but what determines the kind of effect they have on us is how we use them. Using them mindfully and in moderation can actually boost our brain function, improve creativity, and help increase productivity. The following management tips can help you attract all the benefits of technology while minimising its negative impact:

  • Digital detox. Schedule regular periods of time away from digital devices to recharge and reconnect with the physical world. Use this time to engage in hobbies and outdoor activities or spend quality time with loved ones.
  • Practise mindfulness. Cultivate mindfulness practices to improve awareness of your digital habits and their impact on your mental state. While using digital technology, be sure to pay attention to how you engage, irrespective of the platform, and make intentional choices about when and how you use it.
  • Specific time limit setting. Set specific screen time limits for using your social media applications. Use features such as screen time tracking apps or built-in settings to monitor and control your usage.
  • Physical activity and exercise. Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine to counteract the sedentary nature digital technology encourages. Exercise has been shown to boost cognitive function and improve mood and overall brain health. You don’t necessarily have to hit the gym; even a brisk walk or some simple stretching exercises at home can take you a long way; 
  • Sleep hygiene. Create a sleep-friendly environment by minimising screen time before bedtime and establishing a relaxing bedtime routine. Aim for at least 7–9 hours of quality sleep each night to support cognitive function and emotional well-being;
  • Use brain pills. While it’s important to focus on natural methods of enhancing brain health, some individuals often explore the use of brain supplements or nootropics such as modafinil and armodafinil. However, when taking this approach, it’s important to source the brain pills from reputable online vendors, such as https://modafinilusa.com/. It’s also important to do thorough research, consult with healthcare professionals, and use such supplements cautiously, as their safety and efficacy can vary widely.

Takeaway

Social media and digital technology as a whole present both positive and negative effects on brain health. While they offer limitless access to information, cognitive stimulation, and social connection, using or depending on them excessively can have detrimental effects on sleep, attention, and mental health. By using them mindfully, individuals can attract the benefits they offer while safeguarding their brain health for the long term.




Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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