Image overload

SOCIAL media is more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and sitting at the bottom of the pile is Instagram, which is actually detrimental to young people’s mental health, says a report.

The joint report by the Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement argues Instagram’s unlimited “feed” of pure imagery is like crystal meth for the eyes. That might help explain why it’s become one of the fastest growing social networking sites, almost doubling its reach since 2013.

It’s currently used by 58 per cent of 18-29 year olds.

Notre Dame University PhD student Carmen Papaluca is conducting research into the impact of Instagram on the mental health of “emerging women”, between the ages of 18 and 25.

“If you don’t have social media, it’s like you don’t exist,” is a sentiment echoed by people interviewed by Papaluca.

Study participants were aware Instagram was impacting their mental health, but found it difficult to apply self-control.

Sydney-based psychologist Samantha Clarke says the fear of losing touch with peers and trends, commonly referred to as “fear of missing out” or FOMO, is why so many young women are hooked on Instagram.

She also notes that social media taps into our neural rewards system, releasing dopamine in the brain when we post an image and receive likes.

In an interview in December 2016, Anglo-American author Simon Sinek commented on the addictive nature of dopamine.

“Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink and when we gamble. In other words, it’s highly, highly addictive,” he said.

“We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking and gambling but we have no age restrictions on social media and cell phones.

“Which is the equivalent of opening up the liquor cabinet and saying to our teenagers ‘Hey by the way, if this adolescence thing gets you down – help yourself’.”

Study participants said they knew Instagram photos were manipulated; staged and touched up, rather than an accurate portrayal of someone’s life, however this did not stop the negative feelings that arose when viewing the content.

“We can get hooked into comparison – the nature of our mind is to compare and often in the negative,” Clarke says.

“These comparisons lead to a dissatisfied perception of our own life and can trigger feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and isolation.”

Sinek says people are good at putting filters on things.

“Everybody sounds tough, everybody looks like they’ve got it all figured out,” he told the Herald.

“But in reality, there’s very little toughness and most people don’t have it figured out.”


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