Scrolling social media may impact teens' brain development

Many of us find ourselves mindlessly scrolling social media during the day.

But while this may be harmless for most, according to researchers from the University of North Carolina, habitual checking of sites like Instagram and TikTok may have long-standing consequences on the brains of teenagers.

"The findings suggest that children who grow up checking social media more often are becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers," said professor Eva Telzer.

For the study, the team tracked over 160 students from public middle schools in rural North Carolina and their social media use over three years.

Participants underwent yearly brain imaging sessions while completing a task. The sessions measured brain activity when anticipating social feedback from peers.

They found that checking social media repeatedly among young teens ages 12 to 13 may be associated with changes in how their brains develop over a three-year period.

Specifically, the brains of adolescents who checked social media often - more than 15 times per day - became more sensitive to social feedback.

"Most adolescents begin using technology and social media at one of the most important periods for brain development during our lifetime," said co-author Mitch Prinstein. "Our research demonstrates that checking behaviours on social media could have long-standing and important consequences for adolescents' neural development, which is critical for parents and policy-makers to consider when understanding the benefits and potential harms associated with teen technology use."

Full study results have been published in JAMA Pediatrics.