Spending too much time on social media can lead to brain imbalance, finds study | health and fitness | Hindustan Times
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Spending too much time on social media can lead to brain imbalance, finds study

The impulsive act of checking Facebook while driving, at work or at other times has been linked to a deficiency in the balance between two systems in the brain.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 18, 2017 14:40 IST
Social media use
The study says whenever there is an imbalance between two cognitive-behavioral systems in the human brain, there is a higher rate of problematic use of social networking sites. (Shutterstock)

Are you one of those people, who frequently checks their Facebook or Twitter newsfeed, even while driving or in a meeting? Well, you may want to rethink the amount of time you spend on social media.

According to a new study, whenever there is an imbalance between two cognitive-behavioral systems in the human brain, there is a higher rate of problematic use of social networking sites (SNS).

The study, published in Journal of Management Information Systems, found that the impulsive act of checking Facebook while driving, in a work meeting, or at other times that could lead to negative consequences, has been linked to a deficiency in the balance between two systems in the brain.

Researchers applied the dual system perspective, an established theory in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, which holds that humans have two different mechanisms in their brain that influence their decision-making, explained Hamed Qahri-Saremi, the study’s lead author.

Individuals with higher levels of problematic use of Facebook, had a strong cognitive-emotional preoccupation (system one) and a weak cognitive-behavioural control (system two). (Shutterstock)

He said, “System one is automatic and reactive, quickly triggered, often subconsciously, in reaction to stimulus such as a sight of or notifications from social media. System two is a reflective, reasoning system that moves more slowly, regulates cognitions, including the ones generated by system 1, and controls behaviour. The second system can help individuals control impulses and behaviours that are not in their best interest.”

Using a validated problematic use measurement questionnaire, researchers obtained responses from 341 undergraduate college students from a large North American university who use Facebook.

The researchers collected and analysed problematic Facebook use data during one semester and then followed up with each student the next year to track their academic performance – in this case using grade point average – for both semesters and cumulatively.

Individuals who were found to display higher levels of problematic use of Facebook, had a strong cognitive-emotional preoccupation (system one) and a weak cognitive-behavioural control (system two), creating an imbalance, found researchers. In fact, the greater the imbalance between the two systems, the more likely individuals were to engage in problematic social media use behaviours.

Among their findings, 76% of respondents reported using Facebook in class, while 40% reported using Facebook while driving. 63% reported using Facebook, while talking face-to-face with others and 65% reported using Facebook at work instead of working.

63% of the study participants reported using Facebook, while talking face-to-face with others and 40% while driving (Shutterstock)

“The clear and strong effect of problematic social media use on an academic performance was astounding. A slight increase in problematic social media use translates into significant grade loss, and this declined performance is persistent – it remained one year after our initial study,” said study’s co-author Ofir Turel.

Qahri-Saremi and Turel found that problematic use of Facebook negatively affected students’ academic performance, with the higher the problematic use, the lower the GPA. In fact, more than 7% of students’ differences in their GPAs was attributed to their degree of problematic use of social media.

“Unfortunately, these problematic behaviours in using entertaining IT systems, such as social media and video games, are very common nowadays with an increasing pattern. In some cases, these behaviours have resulted in grave consequences for the users, for instance the news that came out last year regarding the problematic uses of the Pokemon GO game where players were involved in accidents or being mugged, because they were carried away by the game. Therefore, there was a need for a research model that can explain why these behaviours emerge and how they can be mitigated, which is portrayed by our work quite well,” added Qahri-Saremi.

The study suggested that individuals could begin to limit their problematic social media use by, for example, turning off social media notifications on their phone.

Next steps in the field include additional research into problematic use of social networking sites and the consequences by expanding the study into other contexts, such as video games, texting and other social media, the study says.

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