It’s been known for some time that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have hugely addictive qualities, and indeed there has been a rise in the number of courses and programs to try and help people to overcome their addictions to social media.
A recent study set out to explore just what impact using Facebook has on our brains and found that the brain activity used by Facebook addicts was remarkably similar to the brain activity of drug addicts.
While the patterns are similar, however, they are not completely identical. The study found that while the activity in the impulsive parts of our brain are similar between Facebook users and drug addicts, the areas that inhibit our impulsive behaviours seem to function perfectly well in Facebook addicts, whereas they don’t seem to function at all in drug addicts.
See Also: How Addicted to Facebook Are You?
The researchers suggest that this could be because Facebook addicts are incredibly sensitised to respond to various positive triggers linked to the site.
"They have the ability to control their behavior, but they don’t have the motivation to control this behavior because they don’t see the consequences to be that severe," the authors say.
The implications of Facebook addiction
So what does this mean for our ability to function in society? There have been various studies highlighting the impact social networking has on us, whether it’s how we perceive our body image, the way it causes us to obsess over an ex or even slump into depression.
While the concept of Facebook addiction has therefore grown in popularity, the understanding of our compulsion has not been quite so well understood.
To rectify this, the researchers asked participants to complete a questionnaire to ascertain their Facebook usage and whether they showed addiction like symptoms for the site, be that anxiety, withdrawal and so on.
The participants were then hooked up to an fMRI machine to enable their brains to be studied while they looked at various images, including some associated with Facebook. The participants were asked to either press a button (or not) when each image appeared.
It transpired that the more addicted people were to Facebook (according to the questionnaire), the faster they pressed the button when images associated with Facebook appeared in front of them.
The Facebook obsessives were showing greater activity levels in the amygdala and striatum parts of the brain, which are traditionally linked to impulsive behaviour. Unlike drug addicts, however, they showed no dampening of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is traditionally linked to our inhibition control.
The researchers believe that Facebook addiction is largely a result of a range of cultural, social, psychological and biological factors. However, there needs to be a much larger study undertaken with many more participants to truly get to the bottom of this.
If you are hooked on the site however, the best methods of detaching yourself are to use things like a website blocker or using some mechanism to ensure your computer/phone switches off at a certain time each night.
Do you feel your own Facebook usage is under control or do you think you may be addicted to the site as well? Your thoughts and comments below please...