Compulsive behavior on Facebook causes change in brain structure

“I feel like I am lost in the universe if I can not open my Facebook account every day. It’s been my habit to check on my timeline, chat with my online friends and mingle with their activities,” Sarah (not her real name), a student said.

Like Sarah, millennials are so tech-savvy that engagement in social media is a usual stuff especially on Facebook, the most dominant social platform. However, studies show that compulsive behavior on the site alter the neural network of the brain.

Internet dependency

 Addiction to Facebook is no unusual issue in using the Internet. It was 2012 when a study conducted in China coined the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) to describe internet obsession as a clinical disorder caused by uncontrolled usage.

Addiction in the Internet, also called dependency, affects the pleasure center of the brain. The impulsive behavior of usage triggers the release of a certain chemical called dopamine in the brain that is responsible for promoting pleasurable experience. According to, when more and more of the dopamine’s activity is encouraged, dependency in usage is more intensified likewise with the intensity of craving. For instance, interesting stuffs in the Internet will urge a user to do more activities online in order to institute the same pleasurable feeling as a reward. That is when users feel good when they read their Facebook updates and receive lot of good news on the site.

Meanwhile, Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” explained why people are hooked on the site due to various factors. For the meantime, emotions like loneliness, boredom and stress serve as triggers to institute an action of logging in  while rewards are given when tidbits fills their newsfeed while investment of ‘likes’ on posts also counts.

Obsession to Facebook linked to drug addiction

Limitless Facebook feed scrolling affects the brain the same with how cocaine works, according to a new research reported in

Recently, a new study led by co-author Ofir Turel, a psychologist at California State University found that brain patterns of people with compulsive behavior in using social networking sites show some brain patterns similar to those found in drug addicts.

As a result, the study found out that most of the participants reacted faster to click FB images than the neural signs as Turel confirmed that FB images are potent triggers in the brain. Also, he said that the participants were more likely to mistakenly press the button when they saw a Facebook logo. Hence, researchers confirmed that compulsive users have greater activation of their brain regions (amygdala and striatum) that are involved in the processing and anticipation of rewards.

The researcher used the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMIR) test for 20 undergraduate students to measure their response to signs and symbols associated with Facebook such as the blue “f” logo and neutral signs like traffic signs. The fMIR is a specialized visual imaging machine used for tracking blood flow in the brain showing active or being stimulated to particular areas of the brain. Turel elaborated that people would respond quickly to the beeps of their phones than that with the street signs when they are driving.

According to on Feb 26, 2016, frequent use triggers two key parts of the brain associated with rewards: On is the amygdala which is the integrative place for emotions, behavior and motivation and the other is the striatum, a part of the forebrain and a critical component of the reward system.

Meanwhile, neuro-chemicals like dopamine which operate across brain reward pathways and are responsible for maintaining addictive behavior are both shown in Facebook and drug addiction.

According to Genetic Science Learning Center managed by the University of Utah Health Sciences, brain regions responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory of those drug addicts begin to physically change, making behaviors “hard-wired”.

Facebook friends affects grey matter on brain

With the significance of having friends to mingle with, we want to have more friends to be better engaged online. According to another study led by researcher Dr. Geraint Rees, a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellow at University College London, the amount of Facebook friends someone has could have an impact with their brain structure. This was based on the brain scan of 125 students in the same university.

As a result of the study, Rees said that amount of Facebook friends had correlation with the size of the gray matter in several areas of the brain of users with many online friends. The gray matter is responsible for social information and is also in control for memory, emotions, speech, perception, among other functions.

One of the areas, is the amygdala which is associated with memory and emotional responses, whereas this area was proven to be larger both to people with may online and real friends.

Also, other areas of the brain linked to processing social information (the middle superior temporal sulcus, amygdala and rostral prefrontal cortex) were revealed to be larger among those with many online friends. However, the size of these areas did not correlate with the number of real-world friends, the researchers affirmed.

Drawbacks of uncontrolled Facebook use

Based on the same article published on the, Facebook addiction can lead to impulse-control disorders. This is common among adolescents where it has led to high prevalence of depression, aggressive behavior and psychiatric symptoms. It adds that this addiction especially at present affects people’s lifestyles, resulting in irregular dietary habits, decreased physical activity, and short span of sleep.

Meanwhile, negative effects of Facebook addiction could be aided. Turel emphasized that people obsessed on the site have the ability to control their compulsive behavior, but they don’t have the motivation to control this behavior because they don’t see the bad consequences of being addicted.

As the digital age is on its peak, addiction to various social networking sites is rampant as everyone goes online, everyone goes mobile. Indeed, the rise of Facebook along with other social platforms makes people gain unlimited information. It also make people connected, bringing relationships closer, breaking the barriers of communication and the likes. However, not tolerated use may cause harm to relationships, to people themselves physically and psychologically. After all, it is moderation of usage helps. // Rose Dagupen 

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