Study: Social Media Turning Aussies Into “Addicted Narcissists” & “Re-Wiring The Brain”

Study: Social Media Turning Aussies Into “Addicted Narcissists” & “Re-Wiring The Brain”

A new study of social media use in Australia paints a rather bleak picture of addiction and potential psychological impact.

The study by media marketer Sensis and called the Sensis Social Media Report found eight in 10 people (79 per cent) are now using social media, with 18-29 year olds displaying a range of obsessive tendencies that raise questions around the long-term psychological impact of the growth of social media. The full report is available here.

The 2017 study surveyed 800 Australian consumers and 1,100 businesses, found that while Facebook remains dominant (95 per cent usage), the other visual platforms continue to grow in popularity, with Instagram on the rise (up from 31 per cent to 46 per cent) and Snapchat usage almost doubling this year (up from 22 per cent to 40 per cent).

Sensis digital spokesperson, Rob Tolliday said: “We’ve seen usage jump another 10 points this year, driven by people’s obsession with their smartphones. But it’s young people who are the social media junkies, with most now checking in as the first and last thing they do every day.

“The bathroom selfie, food porn shot or toilet swipe are now daily habits for many young adults, with three quarters also happy to connect with complete strangers on social media,” Tolliday said.

Ninety-nine percent of 18-29 year olds are now using social media, although the biggest jumps this year were in the 30-39 age group (up 14 points to 96 per cent usage) and the 40-49 age group (up 16 points to 86 per cent usage).

Sixty-three percent of 18-29 year olds have been excited when their post has received more likes on social media than they expected, while more than a third (37 per cent) have felt anxious when unable to access their social media accounts.

Nick Glozier, professor of psychological medicine at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Sydney Medical School said: “Excessive social media use may be re-wiring people’s brains, with every like or retweet acting as a reward and releasing small doses of dopamine that leave us happy. As a result we adapt our behaviour to chase further chemical rewards within the brain, and feel craving like symptoms and anxiety when we can’t get them.”

“This also has an impact on our real world social connections. We see that more than half of the population are checking social media first thing in the morning and in the evening. For couples, this has the potential to impact on their romantic relationships, as they are distracted from the important daily routines that maintain their emotional connection with their partner and family,” he said.

Other key statistics from the 2017 Sensis Social Media Report include:

  • Almost six in 10 are now using social media in the bedroom, up from 42 per cent to 59 per cent this year, and rising to 94 per cent among 18-29 year olds
  • Social media usage while on the toilet is now normal for 14 per cent of the population. It is even more common among men (17 per cent vs 12 per cent) and 18-29 year olds (29 per cent)
  • Males (36 per cent vs 27 per cent) and 18-29 year olds (74 per cent vs average of 31 per cent) are more likely to make friends with strangers on social media. In terms of platforms, men dominate LinkedIn (22 per cent vs 14 per cent), Instagram (50 per cent vs 41 per cent), Twitter (35 per cent vs 28 per cent) and Snapchat (43 per cent vs 36 per cent), while women prefer Facebook (97 per cent vs 91 per cent)
  • Four in 10 have posted food porn on social media and this is more common among men (43 per cent vs 38 per cent) and 18-29 year olds (82 per cent), while similar numbers have posted selfies (45 per cent average and 88 per cent for 18-29s)
  • 40-49 year olds are twice as likely to have been bullied (11 per cent vs 6 per cent average) and the most likely to have witnessed bullying on social media (28 per cent vs 18 per cent average)
  • From a political perspective, ‘slacktivism’ participation has declined (down from 39 per cent to 19 per cent ), although three in 10 (29 per cent) have engaged with posts about Donald Trump, with 18-29 year olds above average (42 per cent)

“Almost nine in ten people aged 18-29 have used the story functions on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. These features can make people feel like celebrities, and they go to great lengths to project an enviable lifestyle in order to chase a sense of social relevance and success,” said Glozier.

“A recent US study found that narcissism is on the rise among young people, as are anxiety and distress. No doubt social media is having a significant impact, as people feel pressure to compete in a fantasy world of posts that sometimes bear little resemblance to the reality of their day to day lives,” he said.

Tolliday added: “Social media is breaking down long established social norms. Whereas it was once considered rude to be on your phone in public, it is increasingly seen as acceptable to check social media in almost any situation, with a third of 30- 39 year olds happy to “phub” their family and friends at dinner.”

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