Instagram is Built on a Single Chemical
I was about to go to bed a few months ago when I received a notification: my screen time was up by 23%, with an average of 6 hours per day!
That’s a quarter of a day spent on scrolling through Instagram and God knows what else.
It was a slap in the face for me and I immediately promised myself to stop playing my phone.
But it got me thinking: Why is it so hard to let go of our phones? Why is social media so addicting?
Turns out, it all comes down to a single chemical: dopamine.
The Dopamine Effect
Dopamine is a pleasure-inducing chemical produced in the brain. Its release is triggered through ‘feel good’ sensations found in sex, exercise, food and even social interactions. We seek to repeat these activities because of these pleasurable sensations.
According to cognitive neuroscientists, dopamine release is also triggered by rewarding social stimuli like receiving likes on social media posts and messages from loved ones. The association between the good-feeling and the preceding behavior is learnt by the brain to prepare future productions of dopamine in response to a similar stimuli.
With more frequent stimuli-pleasure associations, the brain will learn to release dopamine solely on the cue alone.
This is why excitement is built as soon as a new notification pops up. Our brain is pre-conditioned to secrete dopamine because it expects a social reward even before opening the notification.
This anticipation causes us to frequently check our phones whether we do receive new notifications or not. Our brain is accustomed to a certain dopamine level and is wired to crave constant feelings of pleasure, thus, prompting us to mindlessly scroll through Instagram.
Social Media is Built on Dopamine
As addressed in this interview, large social media companies like Instagram utilize this psychological weakness and develop notification algorithms where a bunch of likes are restrained before it is released.
You will initially feel down upon posting and only getting little “likes”. But when notifications stream in, the brain will instinctively produce a surge of dopamine, creating a rapid flow of positive recognition, leaving us with pleasurable sensations. This explains why social media is so addicting.
Overcoming Phone Addiction
After understanding the psychological effect social media has on me, I knew that I have to do something to overcome this addiction.
Here are some tips that work for me.
Find a Hobby
Remember that thing that you keep saying you want to do or learn but never got a chance to? This is your chance to finally tick it off your bucket list.
Go learn a new musical instrument, pick up that brush and start painting, or go hiking with your friends.
Doing something productive will definitely get your mind off your phones.
Limit your Screen Time
Now that you know how addicting social media can be, it’s time to resist opening your phone and start using your time wisely.