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Selfie (Dopamine) addicted nation

May 24, 2016

Social media has been one of the most powerful trends in our society since bursting onto the scene. Its impact on our culture is shocking considering how recently these sites were launched: MySpace in 2003, Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram only in 2010, and Snapchat in 2011.

Beyond their power to connect people, social media has a dark side

A good portion of traffic on these sites are messages of the kind that might have been passed, or which people may have wished they could pass, via older communications media for generations: messages between former classmates, friends and neighbors now distant from each other, messages and updates between family members on their lives and interests, etc. But a growing portion of the traffic on these sites (now over 1/3 of all posts, according to Adweek) are “selfies” – pictures people have taken of themselves for the express purpose of posting on social media.

Think about that for a moment – one out of every three messages people feel are worth taking the time to send out to their connections are pictures of themselves.

Anyone with teenagers in their social media network can likely attest that for many of them this type of post represents more like 95%. Over 90 million selfies are posted every day. More people died in 2015 attempting selfies than from shark attacks worldwide! This phenomenon has never been seen in the history of our society or any other, and it represents an enormous investment of time and expense – but time and expense toward what aim?

Why do so many people post so many selfies?

An easy answer given for why selfies have become so common is simple narcissism – obsession with one’s appearance and with obtaining admiration from others about their appearance. This has been a part of human nature forever (after all, narcissism named for Narcissus, the man who fell in love with his own reflection in Greek mythology; that’s going back a ways…) New technologies offer new and more outlets for this human temptation. This is clearly part of the answer, explaining why, for example:

  • More than 2/3 of adults admit to editing their selfies before posting
  • Followers intuitively know the selfie poster is fishing for a compliment – what other purpose do they serve? – and often oblige with comments on these posts about how they are “beautiful”, “hot”, etc.
  • Many teenagers, especially girls, experience a “low” feeling when their posted selfies don’t garner enough likes; some even later delete posts which don’t meet their target threshold


Is Narcissism and appearance obsession the whole story?

The title of this blog post tipped my hand that there is more driving the selfie craze (and the social media craze more generally). Brain chemistry is a huge dynamic in the addictive power of these systems. When we receive notifications that someone has “liked” or commented on something we posted to social media, it gives our brains a little burst of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which delivers pleasure to our brains. These bursts of well-being can become addictive, creating a heightened need for future experiences of the same feeling. This need can even escalate to feelings of withdrawal during periods away from social media.

Parents, let’s help our families use¬†social media as a tool, not an addiction!

Just like any other addiction, social media (dopamine) dependency must be avoided at all costs. To give over so much control of our happiness to any aspect of our lives is to make idols for ourselves which can empty life from its real meaning. This is a risk both for adults and children. The “selfie” is only one manifestation of dependence on social media attention, but it may be the easiest to spot.


From → Parenting, Science

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