How the Internet ‘Hacks’ your Brain!

If you feel that what social media or internet can do to your brains or steal information of your behaviour, then this blog post is for you. Just like hackers steal personal information from your social accounts, the same thing is done to your brain also, but in a slightly different way. Let us dive into the secret of social media and the Internet.

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Reward System of your Brain!

Dopamine-producing neurons are present in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of the brain. Source:- BrainFacts

There are around 86 billion neurons (nerve cells) in your brain and some of which are firing (communicating) right now at incredibly high speeds (400 km/h). When you play music, watch interesting movies or when you do something that you love to do, a special neurotransmitter known as ‘Dopamine‘ gets released in your brain. It binds to the receptors of specific neurons in your brain to give you a feeling of pleasure and happiness. When you expect a reward for anything that you did, this neurotransmitter communicates with neurons in other regions of your brain via synapses (small gap between neurons) to excite you for the reward that you are probably going to get. If the reward is way better than your expectation, then the dopamine transmission between neurons increases significantly. If you don’t get your expected reward, then the dopamine transmission between neurons decreases. In a way, dopamine drives your ‘reward’ system. But wait, how does all this is connected to social media and internet?

Hacking your Brain

Whenever you watch an interesting video on YouTube or on any other social media platform, do you know what actually is happening behind the scenes? The answer lies in ‘Psychology’ and ‘Algorithms’.

Imagine you are watching a YouTube video right now (by skipping the annoying ad.. haha..). The moment you start watching the video, the algorithm of YouTube starts keeping a track of things that you perform. The actions include, at what time of day you are watching, what is the length of video, for how long are you watching the video, how many other videos related to same topic were being watched by you, how many times you forward or rewind, whether you watched the video completely or not, how many times you watched it, how many comments you made, whether you liked or disliked the video, and much much much more…

They use this data to recommend you more videos like that when you visit YouTube next time. And the cycle goes on and on. You might have noticed that when you search a particular topic on Google, some videos related to that topic will appear on your YouTube feed. These platforms use very complex algorithms to hack you before you even realize it. And not only that, they also conduct various surveys to improve their platform.

They activate your reward system and then use it to grow their product. Your reward system is like a never ending phenomena. It always wants more. It craves for more rewards and ultimately more dopamine. And when it exceeds a certain level, we call it addiction.

All this also happens when you scroll through your Instagram or Facebook feed or when you are gaming.

The most important thing of all is advertisements. All these social media platforms use their algorithms to display ads on you device. They get to know your interests and then they want you to crave for more and more and more. Because that’s how your ‘reward system‘ works.

Research on Internet Addiction

Dr. Phil Reed, Professor in Psychology from the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University explained,

“There is one area in particular that does seem to be subject to damage…from hefty internet use, and that’s the prefrontal cortex, an area towards the front of the brain. This area is connected to a lot of higher functions – things like our ability to plan, our motivation, the selecting and encoding of memories, and our ability to control our impulses are all broadly connected to that area, and that’s the area that’s showing up in neuro-scientific studies as quite heavily impacted by internet use. And it’s also those behaviors which seem to be quite heavily impacted in internet addicts. So a lot of evidence is now converging on the fact that we do have these higher functions which seem to be selectively being knocked out by the internet.”

Blocking our ability to Process things

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When a person is crossing a road engaged in the mobile phone and surfing the internet, he/she cannot process all the information at the same time. His/Her brain is receiving so much information from the real as well as virtual world at the same time, leading to lack of processing everything in the real world and thus leading to unfortunate accidents.

Dr. Phil Reed says, “We don’t know quite whether the internet is just making it difficult for us to select out what we need to look at, or whether in fact there’s so much [information], it’s just blocking up our ability to process anything.”

Your Brain is not the Only Victim!

Your eyes blink around 22 times per min normally, but when you are staring at your computer screen or your smartphone, the blink rate goes down to 14.9 blinks/min. But it’s even worse when reading a book. When reading a book, the blink rate goes down to 13.6 blinks/min. Which means that your eyes get more dry and you may experience itching and eye-fatigue.

To overcome this, I usually follow 20-20-20 rule. According to the rule, ‘Every 20 minutes, a person should look away from their desk for 20 seconds, and focus on something at least 20 feet away’. Believe me, this really works.

Also, your monitor be positioned 20 to 40 inches in front of your eyes, and the top of the monitor should line up with your eye level, so you’re looking down about 15 degrees (this allows more lubrication to your eyes) when you stare at the screen.

Take Advantage from Moderate Gaming

Various FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies have shown that gaming actually improves your hippocampus and by that I mean that it actually improves your cognitive skills. It helps your brain to find minute details of things through different angles of viewing. It also improves your problem-solving capability. But gaming should be in a certain limit. If it exceeds a certain limit, then you may become an addict.

CONCLUSION

So, the next time when you open YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or any other social media platform, keep in mind that they are just playing with your brain and emotions.

That’s all for now. See you soon in the next blog post. Stay safe.

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