A new study from the University of North Carolina has found that frequent users of social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, may be more likely to develop habitual checking behaviors. The study observed 169 students from three public middle schools in North Carolina over three years, measuring the frequency with which they checked various social media platforms, as well as their brain responses when they were anticipating receiving social rewards and avoiding social punishments. Results show that the more frequent users of social media, those who checked 15 times per day or more, were the most sensitive to social feedback.
The findings from this study suggest that frequent use of social media may have a lasting effect on young people's brains, potentially making them hypersensitive to feedback from their peers. Previous research has found that 78 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds report checking their devices at least hourly each day, and 35 percent look at the top five networks “almost constantly.” While this research adds to a growing body of evidence that teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of social media use, further research is needed to understand the long-term effects of this use on adolescent neural development and psychological adjustment.