Does Facebook Shrink Your Brain?
Ashley Allen / 2 weeks ago
Every new technology, sooner or later, will become absorbed into the trope of demonization by parents. Every generation ha heard variations on the following:
“Watching TV will turn your eyes square!”
“Facebook will shrink your brain!”
We know these truisms to be laughably false. Only, the latter may be accurate after all.
Facebook and Grey Matter
New research shows an association between smaller-than-average front-brains and frequent and prolonged Facebook use. The study, published in Behavioural Brain Research, reports nucleus accumbens volume in both hemispheres of the brain has a negative correlation with the world’s biggest social network.
The authors, led by Professor Christian Montag of Germany’s Ulm University, say:
“It appeared, that in particular higher daily frequency of checking Facebook on the smartphone was robustly linked with smaller gray matter volumes of the nucleus accumbens. The present study gives additional support for the rewarding aspects of Facebook usage. Moreover, it shows the feasibility to include real life behavior variables in human neuroscientific research.”
“Left and right nucleus accumbens volume was negatively correlated with Facebook usage. Participants who opened the Facebook app more frequently and those who stayed on the app longer had smaller nuclei in both hemispheres.”
What is the Nucleus Accumbens?
The researchers found that the only area of the brain negatively connected to Facebook use is nucleus accumbens. So, what is it? The nucleus accumbens is a major part of the brain’s reward centre, which triggers pleasure through positive reinforcement. The region is, as such, associated with addiction and impulsiveness. The researchers suggest the nucleus accumbens could be desperately chasing Facebook likes and other virtual attention.
The authors explain:
“In our opinion the present findings are intriguing, because the nucleus accumbens represent a core region of the reward circuitry. The users of the smartphones are checking their Facebook account in expectation of ‘Likes’, nice comments etc. In general the striatum [of which the nucleus accumbens is a main component] has been often implicated in human traits such as impulsivity and sensitivity to rewards.”
What Does This Mean?
The findings do not mean that Facebook shrinks your brain, only that it could. It could also be that people with smaller nucleus accumbens are more prone to Facebook use. We’re talking correlation here, not causation.