So there’s a study (published in 2014 but just going viral now) that claims that Facebook has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine. The study sample was just 20 college students from the US, out of 45 initially screened for inclusion. The method used was to scan the brains of the participants using functional MRIs, while measuring the responses to signs and symbols associated with Facebook. (PubMed Health, Feb. 2016) Apparently, the subjects reacted more quickly to Facebook symbols than to road signs. The scans showed increased activity in the amygdala-striatal area of the brain, an area of emotions and motivation.
The researchers said people in their study with low to medium levels of addiction-like symptoms “have a hyperactive amygdala-striatal system, which makes this ‘addiction’ similar to many other addictions”. However, they added: “they do not have a hypoactive prefrontal lobe inhibition system, which makes it different from many other addictions, such as to illicit substances.” (PubMed Health, Feb. 2016) In other words, saying that Facebook is addictive like cocaine is a bit of a stretch, putting it mildly. The term “addiction” may not be the best to describe the situation as well, with the words “a strong bad habit” being perhaps more accurate in describing the responses.
Is Facebook as addictive as cocaine? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I would say that electronic device use in teens and young adults could stand to be studied. I observe teens every day that cannot go an entire class period without once glancing at their cell phones. No amount of shaming or consequences (short of removing the device from their possession) have any effect on the connected individuals. This is where the studies need to concentrate. Forget about Facebook use — try getting kids to go without Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, or texting for that matter. They walk in the hallways with their noses deep into their phones, looking like the Zombie Apocalypse has already occurred.
I do the best I can to set a good example by moderate, discreet use of my cell phone; you will never see me use my phone in a hallway, or in the library for that matter. I save it for lunch, and only if necessary, and only in my office. I get frustrated when teachers (or other adults) that I’m talking to whip out their phones in the middle of a conversation; with examples like this, how can I expect to reach my students? I realize that there’s a limit to what I can accomplish this way, but it won’t stop me from trying, and it won’t stop me from gently pointing out to my students just how ridiculous it is to have their noses buried in a phone all the time, and how rude it is to look at their device when someone is trying to talk to them. The end of good manners is a warning sign to our society (cue the political debates), but I will continue to be a one-woman crusade to save them. Someone’s got to do it.