We’ve already documented how companies like Facebook and other social media outlets have specifically designed their sites and apps to become as addicting as possible. They’ve basically made people feel the same way you do when you pull the arm on a slot machine – only we do it all day, every day.
Former Google designer and ethicist Tristan Harris explained to VICE back in October, “You pull the lever to win a prize, which is an intermittent action linked to a variable reward. Variable meaning you might win, or you might not. In the same way you refresh your Facebook updates to see if you’ve won. Or you swipe right on Tinder to see if you’ve won.”
And that’s just one way they keep people hooked.
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According to a new study commissioned by Fox News, it goes much deeper.
Even Facebook itself has acknowledged that using its services in a certain way may be detrimental to one’s long-term health.
But according to some health specialists consulted by Fox News, the excessive use of social media, and to an extent Facebook as its biggest player, may wind up having a similar short-term impact as using opioids and cocaine.
Opioids directly impact the brain’s reward system, said Dr. Tara Emrani, psychologist at NYU Langone Health, releasing dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure seeking — similar to what happens when someone receives a Facebook “like” or comments.
“Facebook likes and comments activate similar parts of the brain as opioids, where each like or positive comment activates the reward system and the brain releases dopamine,” Dr. Emrani told Fox News via email. She noted similar sensations occur when someone eats food they enjoy, have sex or use other substances, including cocaine.
“So, arguably, the feelings/experiences of the brain as a result of Facebook likes or comments is similar to those resulting from cocaine, albeit less intense,” Dr. Emrani added. “In addition, opioids have other significant negative effects on the brain, including shrinkage of grey matter and loss of memory.”
Of course, since social media hasn’t been around long enough, we don’t know what effect this will have long-term, especially on children.
Former Facebook President Sean Parker said in a November interview he wasn’t sure what the app was doing to the development of children’s brains.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways,” Parker was quoted as saying. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
The one thing that seems to be consistently stated as a concern is social media and smartphones in general having a negative impact on people’s attention spans as our brains get used to being constantly stimulated and/or rewarded. How that will affect future generations has yet to be determined.
Check out even more details and data on how social media, and Facebook in particular, affect our brains here.