The Effects of Social Networking on Individuals

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  • 0:03 What is Social Networking?
  • 1:15 Effects on the Brain
  • 2:32 Positive Effects
  • 3:52 Negative Issues
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what social networking is and describe some of the possible effects that using social networking websites might have on people.

What Is Social Networking?

How often do you check Facebook or Twitter? More than you'd care to admit? You're not alone. In fact, it's probably worse than you think: people usually underestimate how much time they spend on social networking sites. We're using them more and more every day.

A social network is a dedicated website or application that allows people to communicate with others using profiles, messages, comments, and images. Social networks usually include a list of friends, allowing information to be provided only to the people a user chooses. Examples of social networks include Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

Just a few examples of the many social networks on the internet
Just a few examples of the many social networks on the internet

Social networks began to gain popularity as internet connections became faster and more widespread in the early 21st century. As they've expanded, social networks have become integral parts of people's lives, taking up more time and allowing connection with a much larger number of people, though generally on a more superficial level. With more than 70% of US adults now using social networking websites, this is a significant trend with huge implications for human psychology.

Facebook is currently the most popular social network in the world, with over 1.4 billion users
Facebook is currently the most popular social network in the world, with over 1.4 billion users

Effects on the Brain

One of the reasons that social networks have grown so rapidly is the effect that they have on the human brain. The human brain loves intermittent rewards. Contrary to popular belief, if you give a reward every time a person does something, the person will be less likely to learn that behavior than if you give rewards only some of the time. This is why gambling is such a problem for humans; it feeds directly into this system of intermittent reward that makes people want to put one more quarter into the slot machine.

Social networks also feed into this intermittent reward system. If you have your computer's sound turned on while you're using it, it will make a 'ping' noise whenever something happens that might interest you. When you check to see what happened, what you see can often lead to a release of endorphins: a friend posted a funny status or a cute cat video, or someone responded to one of your posts. This noise, and the potential reward that comes with it, makes social networking highly addictive and distracting.

Any addiction can have negative effects, of course, but that doesn't mean social networking doesn't have good effects, too. Let's look at some of the positive and negative effects associated with social networking.

Positive Effects

Have you ever reconnected with a friend you hadn't spoken to in years? One of the benefits of social networking is that it allows us to connect with people who would normally fall off our radar. Friends we've lost contact with over the years no longer need to go away. We can check back in with them whenever we want. People start to collect social connections like coins or stickers. This can make people feel more connected and in control of their social lives, especially if they're normally prone to isolation.

An example of the social network of just one person
An example of the social network of just one person

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