Why are so many people addicted to social media?
Unlike various drugs, there are no biological chemical changes associated with social media use to make it addictive. Yet, a very large portion of the modern population is addicted to social media.
When you take a deeper look at addiction, it is shown that addiction is based on pleasure and reward. People love both physical and emotional pleasure. Whatever is seen as a reliable source of pleasure can easily become addictive. Its sometimes popular to label those who constantly post on social media as “narcissistic”. But in reality, they might just be an addict. No different than a chain smoker or alcoholic.
Scientists have found that when an action brings some form of reward, the brain responds the same way regardless of whether the action is a behavior or the consumption of a substance. Once certain actions stimulate the reward centers of the brain, those actions can become addictive. The same behavior has been observed in animals.
A popular phrase in the advertising industry is “sex sells”. The truth is, PLEASURE sells. Businesses and marketers know that people will trade money for pleasure. And once you can get people on an emotional leash, there is no limit to what you can make them do or buy.
Social media takes advantage of people’s inherent desire to seek out new, original, or unusual things. This desire is at the root of human progress and all the technological advancements we have made and continue to make. You could argue the human mind is designed to problem solve and discover. When no problems exist, the brain creates new ones. When the burden of survival is taken away, for instance, the mind begins focusing on more trivial matters like fashion or celebrities.
For people, there is intrinsic pleasure in discovering something new and seeking novelty. Social media provides a constant 24/7 stream of fresh information to stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers. Thus, when your current environment is not providing enough stimulation you might seek your “fix” through checking social media.
Another factor that supports social media addiction is the lack of stigma. People are generally followers and feel most comfortable engaging in behaviors that are socially acceptable. Drug use and overeating carry a social stigma than can discourage many people from doing it and make those who do it feel marginalized. But when an addiction is socially acceptable, its not really seen as a “problem”. Not only does the brain get a “reward” from the activity, but it also gets a reward from the environment in the form of social approval.
Breaking an addiction with a stigma attached is usually difficult enough. Breaking an addiction with no stigma attached can seem almost impossible. And this might be by design as those who stand to make money or gain power through the information people share through social media benefit greatly.