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What are the psychological benefits and pitfalls of social media?


Human beings crave personal connection – we are designed to enjoy meeting, interacting and sharing our lives with other people. We enjoy being around others and connecting with them at an individual level. Social media provides the perfect platform to connect with others on a constant basis at the tips of our fingertips. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (to name a few!) are easy and convenient way to communicate with other people, especially those who we are not able to see on a daily basis in the flesh.

In the past 20 years, the amount of information that we process daily has doubled due to technological advances. The problem with this is that our brains did not evolve to ignore new stimuli because any new information could be useful for survival. This comes at a cost – every bit of new information (a new photo or Tweet) demands our attention, and in doing so uses up our brains’ resources – resources that could be more productively spent elsewhere, like working or resting. This makes it very hard for us to focus when we are constantly bombarded with new posts and images. Our brains are constantly being pulled toward new and exciting things and our attention can’t keep up.

The psychology of social media

The psychology of social media

Social media can use up our brain’s energy resources in exactly this way. Every time you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, your brain is switched on and working – so even when you think you are taking a ‘break’ by checking your notifications, you are actually using up a lot of cognitive energy. While social media has a number of benefits, it is costing us energy and precious recovery time in today’s busy world. The result of this is fatigue, stress and anxiety. In fact, the average person in the US in 2005 had similar levels of anxiety as a psychiatric patient in the 1950’s.

So, should we all take a social media ‘holiday’ every once in a while?

At Cognacity, we promote the use of strategic recovery time in order to prevent anxiety and burn-out. This can be on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. This can be difficult to commit to on a large scale. Instead, we like the concept of marginal gains – small, practical and realistic behaviour changes that build up to large benefits over time. When it comes to social media, start small. Try shutting down all phones, tablets and laptops 30 minutes before bed every night and keep them out of the bedroom. This will help you get a better night’s sleep, free of any distracting notifications and leave you feeling more refreshed and energised in the morning.

What effects could taking such a break have?

Small breaks from social media will give your brain a much needed rest from the intruding distractions that constantly fight for attention and deplete its energy resources. You will feel more alert and focused and will have more energy to devote elsewhere – from finishing the big project at work ahead of schedule, spending quality time with your family or fitting in some exercise.

Using the latest information and research in cognitive behavioural psychology, Cognacity have developed a Technology, Wellbeing & Performance workshop. The session will help your employees explore some of the challenges we face in the Information Age and particularly how technology is affecting our wellbeing and ability to perform optimally. For more details contact a member of the Cognacity team.

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