Normally when we refer to addiction, we are talking about substance addiction or gambling, but in recent years, that definition has broadened to include many other addictions, such as social media. As well as the countless studies showing our increasing use of social media and technology, anecdotally, the way in which we reach for our phones first thing in the morning, and scroll endlessly through social media feeds during the morning commute demonstrates this addiction we have to social media.
Now, Sean Parker, former Facebook President has admitted that Facebook was designed to exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology, namely through making users crave social validation through likes and comments. Many drugs target the brain’s reward system, causing a release in the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to feelings of pleasure and euphoria. This feeling then reinforces use of drug, contributing to a cycle of addiction. In the same way, Parker has explained how likes and comments on Facebook are designed to give users a “dopamine hit” driving their attention on the app, and contributing to a social-validation feedback loop where users continue to post content, in order to receive validation.
Psychology students can consider the structure of reward pathways in the brain and how changes in neurotransmitters can drive behaviour and lead to addiction. Computer Science students could look at the nature of the algorithms that drive the content we see most of on our newsfeeds, and how this can change the user experience, whilst Economics students could consider the financial benefits to a company in ‘hooking’ users to an app, to ensure that they continue to use it.
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