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What Psychology & Neuroscience Say About the Use of Technology

Updated: Jan 17

The author Elena Menchetti of the article:" What Psychology & Neuroscience say about the use of technology".

Date of publication: 26/12/2023

Technological development

Psychology and Neuroscience and its link to social media

Technology has advanced a lot in the past couple of years, and people have become more reliant on it for everyday activities. From calling a friend to ordering dinner at home, technology has made things so much easier. However, it has also increased the rates of mental health disorders and other problems for many of us.

Keep reading if you want to discover the positive and negative impacts of technology, both on psychology and neuroscience. Throughout this article, there will be a strong focus on the consequences of social media. What’s more, we will give some examples of how other forms of technology (e.g. gaming) influence us.

Technology on a psychological level

Positive consequences

1. Keeping in touch with friends and family

Being able to communicate with loved ones despite the distance has helped tremendously, especially during the pandemic. This is because talking about our experiences with people we trust can benefit our mental health. Besides that, listening to other people sharing similar experiences can make us feel less alone in whatever we are going through.

2. Increased learning

If people are exposed to new kinds of information every day, their chance of learning new things and appreciating different perspectives increases. However, this might be harder to achieve now because of media algorithms. In fact, these algorithms are picking up patterns in the way you use social media (e.g. which accounts you follow, which posts you view or like the most). Then, they show you similar content or information. 

3. Easier access to health services

Especially for mental health, services can be found online, and most of them are available any time. There also exist tracking health apps which help you track aspects of your physical health such as sleep. These apps can be equally beneficial for your mental health. It’s all about that mind-body connection!

4. Promoting healthy lifestyles

If we take YouTube as an example, there are channels where healthy recipes and workouts are posted which may help people get healthier. Again, a healthy body means a healthy mind!

5. Easing stress

Social media especially can serve as a distraction tool which takes the individual’s attention away from stressful feelings. In some cases it may also reduce feelings of loneliness and, as a consequence, stress levels.

6. Increased self-worth

Because social media often involves posting something and receiving likes, people’s self-esteem and perceived self-worth may increase. However, this is not always the case, especially when more filters are used nowadays. Using filters that change one’s “true” physical appearance can be detrimental for mental health. This is because deep down, the person applying the filters knows that what other people will see on their screen is not the “real” self.

impact of gaming from psychological perspective

Negative consequences

1. Social comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out)

Social comparison is extremely common on social media. This often stems from the assumption that other people are more beautiful, intelligent or successful than we are. At the same time, if we see more people doing the same things on social media (e.g. eating the same food, dressing the same way etc.) we might assume that what we are doing is “wrong” or not trendy. Therefore, we may start doing what everyone else is doing in order to fit in or be more successful.

FOMO is another negative consequence of technology, and in particular of social media use. FOMO has been found to increase feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. Moreover, FOMO has been associated with the idea of “chasing the happiness ideal”. We get scared that we will miss out on what everyone else has or is doing if we are not doing the same things. This often leads to a lack of appreciation of the present moment, and a constant feeling of “craving more” of that which we don’t have.

2. Disrupted sleep

Using social media, or technology in general, can disrupt our circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle) especially at night. This is due to the exposure to screens’ light.

3. Lack of physical activity

If people spend more time on their devices, their inactivity will increase. Let’s take the example of children. If they spend more time gaming or watching series than playing outside with friends, their lifestyle will soon become very inactive. Inactivity is associated with poor mental (and physical) health.

4. Reduced social interactions

Increased use of technology and social media leads to more isolation and loneliness. This in turn can result in a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.

5. Lack of mindfulness and enjoyment of the present moment

Most people who use social media are barely living in the present moment. This is because they wish they were somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else. Alternatively, it’s because they are using technology while being engaged in another activity. For example, this could be eating while watching TV or being on social media. How many times have we seen friends or couples sitting at a restaurant and looking at their phones instead of talking to each other?

Technology on a neurological level

Positive consequences

1. Multitasking

Psychology and Neuroscience

This was found to be the most effective when individuals are using different modes of processing (e.g. seeing and hearing as opposed to seeing-seeing). However, if the same mode of processing is used, multitasking can actually impair cognitive performance. In addition, because two tasks receive our attention at the same time, the quality of both tasks when finished might be lower.

2. Working memory

Working memory is the ability to retain information for brief periods of time. This is often used to problem solve. Improved working memory has been found to increase fluid intelligence, which is the ability to think and reason flexibly.

3. Visual attention processing and reaction times

Using technology and, in particular, playing video games, has been found to improve visual processing and spatial attention skills. Besides that, there is some evidence to suggest that video games can improve reaction times. This may be due to the fact that playing video games often involves being aware of many stimuli at the same time. One then needs to know (or find out) how to react to each stimulus in a brief period of time.

Hence, in the long-term, the reduced reaction times that one develops from playing video games may extend to other areas of life.

Negative consequences

1. Reduced attention and concentration span

Because of the higher frequency of attentional shifts and multitasking, people’s attention and concentration span may get worse with extensive technology use. In addition, a reduced concentration span may be due to the fact that, on social media, most messages are only a few sentences long. This means that when it comes to reading an actual book, people may struggle to keep their attention focused for more than one page long.

2. Reduced mental effort

Most problems nowadays can be solved using technology, which reduces people’s willingness to use their own mental effort.

3. Reward drive

Because of the dopamine peaks that result from using social media, people are constantly looking for activities that are rewarding (and possibly risky). The changes in dopamine partly explain why people can become “addicted” to social media. The term addiction is used when something is out of control. Additionally, it is used when someone keeps doing the addictive activity despite knowing its negative consequences.

4. Impaired ability to write

Technology can also impair our ability to write correctly. This is because while texting, most people use abbreviations and almost never take the time to write full sentences. In addition, the autocorrect options on smartphones correct mistakes for us all the time.

5. Impaired memory or memory loss

Possibly due to information overload and increased stress levels from social media exposure, our memory formation and retention can be impacted. This may be due to the less neural connections being formed between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.

The hippocampus is one of the most important brain regions for memory formation. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex is what allows for executive and cognitive functions to take place (e.g. problem solving). However, this region, when connected to the hippocampus, is also involved in memory retrieval (or remembering).

6. Impaired emotional and social intelligence

Impairments in emotional and social intelligence are likely due to the reduced number of “real-life” or face-to-face interactions. Indeed, studies suggest that people’s ability to recognize non-verbal cues is impaired when screen use increases, especially at an early age.

mental health is affected by technology

Takeaways of psychology and neuroscience in the use of technology

While benefits of technology exist, so do negative consequences. In fact, especially when technology is used for long hours and from an early age, it has many negative effects on our well-being. This includes negative consequences of psychology and neuroscience.

From a neurological perspective, it is scientifically proven that technology use impacts brain function and behavior. What’s more, our brains’ neurochemistry can be altered with the use of technology (e.g. changes in dopamine levels). From a psychological perspective, it has been found that being exposed to highly curated social media feeds can decrease life satisfaction. However, it is the quality of time spent on social media more than its quantity that can determine whether mental health will improve or deteriorate.

Indeed, it is logical to think that, if every time we look at social media we receive negative news or pessimistic messages, then our mental health will deteriorate. On the other hand, if what we read are mostly humorous or positive messages, then our mental health is likely to get more positive.

To conclude, balance is key. Even though technology has many benefits and can make our lives easier, using it in moderation is what matters. Yes, everyday gaming can have positive consequences for mental and cognitive abilities, but it is also related to increased obesity rates. And yes, social media can distract you from everyday hurdles or boost your self-esteem momentarily. But avoiding your problems or relying on other people’s likes to feel better will not serve you in the long run.

So place your health and well-being in your own hands!


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