What happens in the brain while we scroll on social media and why it can be addictive

Have become pervasive for less than twenty years, yet they have penetrated so deeply into the fabric of our daily lives that it seems have always existed. THE social networks they keep us connected with distant people and long-time friends, but at the same time they try to hold us back as much as possible within them, undermining ours Attention and acting on our system gratification of the dopaminergic circuit. Studies warn us about their unconscious use and encourage us to look methods for limitation of their daily use. A high passive use of social media is in fact correlated with decrease in subjective well-being self-perceived and has long-term impact on Grey matter of our brain.

The brain mechanisms of scrolling: why it can be addictive

One of the simplest ways to reinforce behavior like this scrolling (sliding the finger on the smartphone screen) is to associate a specific action with a well-being response. This is the mechanism underlying our addiction to social media: when an individual is exposed to a rewarding stimulus, theventral tegmental area releases dopamine towards the nucleus accumbens.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter from the family of catecholamines, which also includes adrenaline. It is strongly implicated in the circuit of rewardthat is, we always find it involved when we experience a gratifying pleasure in relation to an action performed, and it is a type of pleasure that creates dependence.

But why should scrolling Instagram be rewarding? There are several answers. First of all, receive attention in the form of likescomments or shares makes us feel taken into consideration until we perceive an increase in popularity, which for a social animal like Homo sapiens means leadership, increase in the number and strength of social ties and therefore greater chances of survival and success.


Social media also uses other tricks to prevent us from pressing the home button. One of these is based onunpredictability of rewards: A fair amount of unpredictability has an echo effect on our search for dopamine. So, never knowing when the next dopamine release will arrive, we keep scrolling like a slot machine, looking for the next rush.

Social media and long-term brain changes

Immerse yourself in other people's lives, or rather, in what others want to do to appear of themselves, it constantly takes us to comparison with others. In a subtle way, this mechanism instills in us a fear of being left behind compared to social events, and this pushes us to open our apps to update ourselves on world events and the lives of our acquaintances.

Meta-analysis studies, i.e. studies that aggregate many other previous studies to extract significant correlations, report that as the passive use of social networks increases decreases subjective well-being of the person. Other neuroimaging studies investigating the impact of social media on our brains show us how these alter the gray matter (the area where the neuronal nuclei are concentrated), in particular that of the areas of emotionsfrom the decision making and of theself control.

Finally, they impact our ability to stay focused for a long time, given the ephemeral and frenetic nature of the content we typically consume on social networks.

Strategies for scrolling in moderation

As we all know by now, scrolling is a behavior that, if not managed, becomes automaticuntil it leads to one dependence that we don't even see coming. To counteract an unconscious use of social media, a series of measures are implemented behavioral precautions combined with some deep reflections that consolidate motivation.

Among the first, the advice of keep your phone away while studyingpractice regularly periods of abstinence from social platforms, e balance interactions online with those in real life, given that studies show that the latter cannot be replaced by the former in terms of personal and social well-being. It can be very effective silence notifications that come from social network apps, so as to make money every time intentional our use of the platforms, and avoid, so to speak, “being called” by them.

do not disturb mode

These useful practices should then be added underlying reasoning on what we see on social media, for example limit depressive impacts that psychological research denounces. First, be aware of what you see on the platforms does not match to the lives of the people immortalized, but only to what those same people want show And narrate of themselves. It turns out that a comparison between our life and what we see on social media is atotally wrong operation: in this way we are comparing the “photogenetically best” moments of the people we observe with subjective everyday life, also made up of difficult and tiring moments that no one tends to show.

It is therefore useful choose actively who to follow, the profiles who tell us something about the world, who don't make us feel inadequate, who choose to show the vulnerabilities of life, or who tell us about science in everyday life. The way to take social media by the handle is to actively building our feedFor avoid incorrect comparisons and not be called upon to shake when we don't feel like it.