Social Media is Lowering Your Attention Span

By Nadia Liu

Public Relations

When was the last time you sat through a full episode of a show without checking your phone or simultaneously scrolling through TikTok? What about a full movie? This isn’t a rare phenomenon; some studies have shown that social media lowers our attention spans, which also lowers our ability to complete tasks efficiently, solve problems, and delay gratification. As social media’s addictive qualities extend further into our everyday lives, it is important to take steps to remedy its effects on our brains.

In 2017, at an event in Philadelphia, Sean Parker announced that Facebook’s architects exploited a “vulnerability in human psychology.” Parker, who was Facebook’s first president, resigned from the company in 2005. He explained that the development of Facebook was spurred by the objective of “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” This led to the creation of the like button, which would give users “a little dopamine hit” and acted as a “social-validation feedback loop.”

 Other social media apps utilize similar techniques. TikTok, for instance, utilizes the same principles used in Vegas slot machines. When you see a video you like, you receive a dopamine hit in the pleasure center of the brain, keeping you scrolling. “You keep scrolling because sometimes you see something you like and sometimes you don’t. In psychological terms [it’s] called random reinforcement,” says University of Southern California professor Julie Albright. “It means sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s how these platforms are designed … they’re exactly like a slot machine. Social media has made our brains crave dopamine, shortening our attention spans as we constantly look for a new dopamine hit.” 

           Furthermore, Dr. Anna Lembke, Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University, explains that our dependence on instant gratification means we’re always living in our emotion-processing limbic brain, rather than our problem-solving prefrontal cortex: “We’re losing our capacity to delay gratification, solve problems and deal with frustration and pain in its many different forms.” 

           So how do we fix it? Dr. Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, recommends to “Take the [social media] icons off your desktop and bury the apps on your phone inside folders, where it takes an extra effort to find them. Leave your phone in another room, or put it in a drawer and lock it.” She also promotes walks in nature and doing something engaging that takes no mental effort, such as doing laundry or ironing. Dr. Lembke advocates replacing instant dopamine producing social media with “painful” pursuits: “When we do things that are challenging – going for a run, having an ice bath, talking to a stranger, reading a book on philosophy – instead of receiving a dopamine boost beforehand we experience it afterwards.” While some scientists firmly believe that we are facing an attention crisis, others say that the evidence for it is shaky. Regardless, it is crucial to take control of this possible problem early, before its repercussions are irreversible and permanent. The benefits of a healthier dopamine balance and longer attention span hold immense value; our minds will be less preoccupied with craving and more capable of presence in the moment.

(Sources: Forbes, NY Times, The Guardian)

Categories: Opinion

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