Surprise, surprise: Researchers have examined the brain activity of people who display addictive behaviors in their social media usage and found that their addiction resembles, well, addiction. The results of the brain scan study were published in an article in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma.
The researchers asked 20 subjects, all college undergraduates, to fill out questionnaires about their feelings about Facebook, including a number of symptoms traditionally associated with addiction, such as withdrawal and anxiety.
The subjects then submitted to brain imaging while they were shown a series of images, including some related to Facebook and others unrelated. Then they were asked to press a button or not press a button depending on the image.
Overall, the more addiction-type symptoms users registered on the questionnaire, the more likely they were to press the button when a Facebook-related image appeared, even when they weren’t supposed to.
According to the article, this means that Facebook-related images were a more powerful trigger than other images, which even included highly conditioned stimuli, like stop signs.
The addictive nature of Facebook was further illustrated by the brain scans, which showed that subjects who scored higher in the self-reported addiction measures and button test also showed more activity in the amygdala and striatum, two parts of the brain shown to be linked to impulsive behavior.
Ominously, the scans found patterns of activity resembling those in cocaine addiction. However, unlike cocaine addicts, the parts of the brain responsible for inhibiting impulsive behavior, in the prefrontal cortex, seemed to be working normally, making the result somewhat ambiguous.
California State University psychologist Ofir Turel, a co-author of the study, speculated that users have no reason to try to regulate their usage because Facebook addiction seems harmless. “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.”