A new study published in Psychological Science offers insight into teenage brains and how they react to social media. The study recruited 32 teenagers and showed them 148 photographs on a social media-like platform. Of the photographs each teen viewed, he or she had personally submitted 40 of them. Each photograph also had a certain number of “likes” attached, a number selected by the study’s researchers. As the teens viewed the images, the researchers measured their brain activity with magnetic resonance imaging-an MRI.
The teens were more likely to “like” photos that already had a large number of likes. This is unsurprising, as we all know that teens are susceptible to peer influence. Unfortunately, this finding still held true when the photos depicted risky behavior like drinking, smoking, or wearing provocative clothing.
Researchers noticed that the reward processing, social cognition, imitation, and attention sections of the brain were extremely active when teens viewed their own photos with a large number of likes. They also noted that when teens viewed the photos depicting risky behavior, the activation of the parts of the brain that inhibition response and cognitive control decrease. The decreased activity of these parts of the brain can significantly and negatively impact one’s judgement.
The take away message? Social media is one more way in which teens influence and are influenced by their peers. Obviously peer influence is not new, but the current pervasiveness of social media takes peer pressure to new heights. Depending on whom your teen follows online, this could be a good thing. However, the glamorization of risky behaviors online has the potential to chip away at teens’ decision-making savvy. Make sure you know whom your teen associates with online and what kind of behaviors their online friends promote.
Another aspect of the study to keep in mind is that teens are receiving very real “highs” from social media. If your teen is having trouble putting down the phone, or posts constantly, he or she is probably chasing that high. Engaging in real life experiences and relationships and developing confidence off-line is key to resisting the urge to seek affirmation online.
To read the study in full, click here!
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