Scrolling through your Facebook feed may seem harmless, but a new study in California suggests that when you do so, your brain reacts in a similar way to that of people who use cocaine and are addicted to gambling.
Past studies have already compared brain functions of people obsessed with the Internet to changes in the brain that occur to gamblers and alcoholics. Now, a research team from California State University, Fullerton provides further proof.
The team says obsession to social media may lead something akin to classical addiction. Apparently, social media use triggers two parts of the brain that are responsible for the reward system: the amygdala and the striatum.
The striatum is a critical part of the forebrain, while the amygdala is an integrative region for behavior, emotions and motivation.
In the new study issued in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma, researchers asked 20 undergraduates to complete a questionnaire that assesses how addicted they are to social media sites, particularly Facebook. It involved questions that examined symptoms such as withdrawal, conflict and anxiety which are markers of addiction.
Another test required the participants to respond to a series of photos. Some are random images, some are related to Facebook.
Those who quickly responded to Facebook-related photos were found to also score high on the addiction questionnaire. This indicates that at the examined levels of addiction-like symptoms, social media obsession shares some neural features with gambling and substance addictions.
Unlike cocaine addicts, Facebook users displayed no negative effects of brain systems responsible for inhibition. But some of the participants responded faster to Facebook images than they did to road signs.
"This is scary when you think about it," said Ofir Turel, professor at California State. "It means that users might respond to a Facebook message on their mobile device before reacting to traffic conditions if they are using technology while on the road."
Nevertheless, Turel said the addictive social media behavior can be reversed via treatment. He said it isn't difficult for people to wear themselves off of Facebook compared to people who are addicted to drugs.
Still, other experts are not convinced with the study's findings. Psychologist Cecilie Schou Andreassen of University of Bergen in Norway said the small-scale study may not be accurate because only 20 students participated in it.
"It is therefore questionable whether this sample is appropriate for investigating Facebook addiction," she added.
Photo : Jan Persiel | Flickr