10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Social Media

In 2020, social media is inescapable. We can access it at all times from a small device that is pretty much always in our back pocket. It’s safe to say that everyone uses some form of social media. It is nice to stay connected. It is nice to stay in the know. It is nice to talk to see what your friends and family are up to. It is nice to see targeted ads that seem like they were built for you.   However, this means that we are constantly checked in. This can have a serious affect on our inner psychology. There are pros to social media but there are also many cons. Let’s talk about both. Here are 10 things to know about the psychology of social media…   

Social media can keep us connected and present.

For people who live far away from people they care about, social media can help you stay connected. Knowing what someone is doing, how they’re spending their time, and who they’re with, can help us feel closer. Without social media, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out. Social media allows us to see a graduation in real time. It lets us interact with a significant other while they’re away at work. It may help us meet new people who other otherwise would be out of our zip codes. Social media has the ability to bring us closer together.   

Social media turns on receptors in our brains. 

When it comes to positive attention, social media feeds our receptors. It’s no surprise that our brains love rewards, but social media quite literally feeds the brain those rewards. When we receive likes on social media – Instagram, Facebook, etc – our brain circuits in the striatum and ventral tegumental regions are activated. Positive attention and affirmation fires off our dopamine receptors.   

Social media can become an addiction.

Just like anything else that brings us pleasure, social media is addictive. Typically when someone becomes addicted to social media, they may struggle with self esteem and have anxiety about not being in the loop. The link between social media and self esteem goes hand-in-hand with the point above. If someone doesn’t think positively about themselves, they become addicted to positive affirmation, even if it’s from people behind a screen. As for general anxiety about not being connected, social media can create the habit of needing to know what is happening. What are my friends doing? Where is everyone hanging out? Should I tell people what I am doing? Has anyone messaged me?   

Social media may alter our identity.

When we create an identity on social media, is that our true identity? There are many forms of social media. There are apps and websites designed for personal use, art, social networking, work networking, dating, writing, and more. Depending on the social media being used, a different identity may be formed. While this is understandable, sometimes it may become confusing with in-person interactions. Others may perceive us differently. We may want to maintain the persona we are online. We may hide who we truly are…so on and so forth.   

Social media platforms may make us compare ourselves to others.    

  In our current society, it is difficult to not compare ourselves to the people we see on social media. We see people traveling around the world, effortlessly posing with their six children, and not sweating at a music festival. But what we don’t consider is the fact that a travel photo may be from six months ago. Their children were probably screaming bloody murder five seconds prior, and photoshop is the work of God. While these may not be inauthentic, it’s not fair to say that there is not a purposeful filter on top of any social media post. Psychologically speaking, this has the ability to affect us mentally on many levels.   

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We may feel a psychological motivation to post.

At a certain point, social media may feel like another box you need to check. You may feel this psychological motivation to post – which at times may feel out of your control. This may be because social media checks boxes that satisfy our brains when we feel certain things are lacking. When we feel like we need to fill a void, many people turn to social media.    It can satisfy our physiological needs by knowing that we are making our friends and family happy. It may make us feel loved and like we belong. There is a level of social acceptance that comes from social media posting. Similarly, self esteem can be fulfilled on social media affirmations. Social media may also provide a place to be applauded for your work. For example – a graduation, a new job, a new home.   

Mental health support is at your finger tips!

There are many positive sides to social media. While our mental health can be at risk for certain aspects of it, it can also be very helpful.    Social media can make the world smaller. We can talk to and see the lives of people from all over the planet. This can bring people together that otherwise never would have met. This can be in regards to friendships, love interests, people who work similar jobs, and more. These platforms can also open up mental, body-positive and health conscious groups. Being able to see a world outside of the one right in front of you may help you think about life differently and expand your horizons.   

Social media may be why you’re not sleeping. 

  Similar to television and other forms of entertainment, social media late at night may keep our brains alert too late at night. Because of this, social media can affect our sleeping habits. Using social media when you should be allowing your brain to wind down may cause a poor night’s sleep. We all know that a lack of sleep can have a long list of psychological effects on us on the daily!  

We may mistake socializing online with actually socializing. 

The line between the internet and “real” life can be blurry. This may be especially common for people who lack social experiences in general. When someone turns to social media for outside interactions and/or for feeling less alone, it can be difficult to realize that it is not the same as in-person interaction. People who use social media for work may also be in this category. When someone spends a lot of time on the internet for work, they can feel like their days were filled with interactions. But like we said, this is not the same. This has the possibility of leading to feeling isolated, even though you felt like you were doing the opposite.   

Social media opens opportunities for happiness!

We previously mentioned how social media allows us to make friends all over the world. It removes the walls, it opens up the world. Suddenly people and other ways of life seem less far away. Similarly, social media opens up the world of jobs. Not only do the platforms allow us to be accessible to people hiring or looking for a product, it also shows us the many different forms of income that are possible. While this doesn’t necessarily seem like a psychological link…it is! When we are allowed to explore outside of norms of the society we live in, we can find more of what makes us happy. Maybe you had no idea that your hobby could be a job! Maybe you never knew that a job field like that would have caught your eye! This ultimately leads to happiness and a broader mind.