Science Daily reveals a neurological truth, found during a first-of-its-kind study of teens’ brains while engaging in social media – that getting Likes on Facebook or Instagram lights up the same brain areas as eating chocolate or winning money:
The 32 teenagers, ages 13-18, were told they were participating in a small social network similar to the popular photo-sharing app, Instagram. In an experiment at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, the researchers showed them 148 photographs on a computer screen for 12 minutes, including 40 photos that each teenager submitted, and analyzed their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.
“When the teens saw their own photos with a large number of likes, we saw activity across a wide variety of regions in the brain,” said lead author Lauren Sherman, a researcher in the brain mapping center and the UCLA branch of the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.
A region that was especially active is a part of the striatum called the nucleus accumbens, which is part of the brain’s reward circuitry, she said. This reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive during adolescence. When the teenagers saw their photos with a large number of likes, the researchers also observed activation in regions that are known as the social brain and regions linked to visual attention.
The teenagers in the study viewed “neutral” photos — which included pictures of food and of friends — and “risky” photos — including of cigarettes, alcohol and teenagers wearing provocative clothing.
“For all three types of photographs — neutral, risky and even their own — the teens were more likely to click like if more people had liked them than if fewer people liked them,” said Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology. “The conformity effect, which was particularly large for their own pictures, shows the importance of peer-approval.”