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For those who choose to participate, it is a way of life, and for those who don’t, it appears to be a mere distraction. In either case, one cannot deny the powerful and alluring force that is social media and its effect on everyday life. Why? There must be something more profound to social media than flashy filters and celebrity tweets.

A major clue lies in a recent study published in the Psychological Science journal that looked at the effects of Facebook “likes” on the brain. In the study, researchers at the University of Los Angeles, California recreated a social network that mimicked the photo-sharing social network Instagram and had 32 participants view a series of images. At this point, researchers measured the participants’ brain activity as they [the participants] assigned “likes” to photos of their choosing.

The major finding from this study was that participants were more likely to assign a like to a photo when it already had a lot of likes, and less likely when the photo garnered few likes (all of the likes were preassigned by the researchers without the participants’ knowledge). The participants also showed an increase in brain regions involving social cognition and reward processing when they viewed images with a lot of likes, and more so when the popular picture was their own.

This shows that even online, social interaction and peer influence affect how we behave psychologically, and teach us the difference between normative and deviant behavior. For teenagers and young adults that are still learning how the world works, social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram serve as effective tools for socialization. This is because social media gives people immediate feedback on their behavior and the extent to which the behavior conforms to societal ideals.

 WIth so many different apps and platforms, social media has become the norm.

Image Source: Bloomberg

Social media can definitely be a distraction when it’s consumed without moderation, but in any other situation it gives us a chance to keep our social muscles fit and toned when we are otherwise be too busy to exercise them. Other sources may suggest that social media can make you feel lonelier, but this tends to result from lack of active participation through actions such as commenting on photos or submitting your own post.

On the surface, social media may appear to be all fun and games, but its long-standing influence on our social values and behavior shows that it’s more than just entertainment. Just as a heartwarming post about a popular Gofundme cause may show what captivates people’s hearts, the surging popularity of a person’s Facebook profile picture may provide insight on what characteristics of the picture garnered such popularity. Essentially, with consistent active participation, you can learn just as much from Facebook as you would from a real book.

Feature Image Source: facebook like button by Sean MacEntee

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