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#sowhoknew: Is Facebook really as addictive as cocaine?

Hooked on Facebook? Well according to a recent study it affects your brain in the same way as using cocaine, gambling or alcohol…

The latest research from California State University, Fullerton provides a clear indication that an obsession with social media sites such as Facebook actively trigger the amygdala and the striatum which are the primary components of the brains ‘reward system’. The boffins discovered that repeated scrolling of your Facebook feed will light up these two areas of grey matter on an MRI scan just like a proverbial Christmas tree, in exactly the same way as cocaine.

In the ‘Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma‘ study respondents were shown a selection of imagery, some of which were related to Facebook, and were asked to click a button when they were stimulated by the delineation. It transpires that those who were the fastest to respond when they saw Facebook pictures had also scored highly in an earlier experiment to detect addiction. Hmm. It makes Mark Zuckerberg sound like Pablo Escobar.

Professor Ofir Turel of California State University stated that:

‘The impulsive system can be thought of as a car’s accelerator, while the inhibitory system can be likened to a brake. In addictions, there is very strong acceleration associated with the impulsive system often coupled with a malfunctioning inhibitory system”

This study coincides with a report just last week that parents need to prevent their kids bingeing on social media during the Summer vacation period because it is the equivalent of “junk food”. Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has made it clear that she believes, “Many children are using social media and the internet like sweets or junk food. Parents wouldn’t let their kids eat a double cheeseburger and fries every day, so they shouldn’t let them spend time online in an unhealthy way. They have a responsibility as the providers of the smartphones, computers and iPads their children use, to step in now and make sure their children’s online lives are healthy.”

But is this all social media scaremongering simply to create eye catching headlines? (yeah and before you say it, I know, just like mine?!). Anyway, in the spirit of balance, there is a flip side…

Andy Przybylski and Amy Orben are lecturers at Oxford University and they say that it is incredibly tough to predict how social media affects individuals because we need to take into consideration aspects such “personality, type of social media use and social surroundings”. Of course, the truth is that social media can / will have both positive and negative outcomes based upon these factors. Generally speaking the so-called experts claim that a moderate usage of social media (around 1 to 3 hours a day) is not considered to be harmful to mental health. But is it? With a social phenomenon so relatively new, can we genuinely comprehend its impact? After all, several generations thought that smoking tobacco was perfectly safe until we all found out the harsh reality…

Other experts are also not convinced with the findings from Cal State. Cecilie Schou Andreassen is the Professor of Psychology at the University of Bergen (Norway) and she poured scorn on the study because it only tracked results from just 20 students:

“It is therefore questionable whether this sample is appropriate for investigating Facebook addiction”
And, indeed, Cecilie has a point. A sample size of only 20 students on the West Coast of the United States is hardly what you would describe as statistically robust on a global scale is it?

So what do you think? Is social media the opiate of a generation or are its addictive qualities being largely exaggerated? Do you agree that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn etc. are potentially detrimental to society or is it simply the naysayers not understanding the power of being socially connected? As ever I am keen to hear your thoughts…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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