Selfie- editing has been linked with narcissism
However, these areas were only noticeably active when subjects tried to make themselves look bad – that is when they were choosing behaviours to make people dislike them. If they were choosing behaviours that made them look good, there was no detectable difference to normal brain activity. Coupled with the fact that subjects were much faster at processing behaviours that made them look good as opposed to bad, the conclusion was that presenting a positive image of ourselves to others is what the brain is doing all the time! It’s the brain’s default state.
Granted, it was a small and limited study, but it’s an interesting outcome nonetheless. And if we’re constantly focused on presenting a positive image of ourselves, it’s no wonder social networks are so popular, as they offer a much greater sense of control of how we come across.
But this control is a double- edged sword. Even if you’re just sitting with friends, the tendency to check your phone rather than talk can be overwhelming. The brain is usually averse to risk, preferring predictable options over less certain ones, and the cool, calm interface on the screen is often subconsciously more reassuring than the chaotic conversation going on around you. The people you’re with may consider this behaviour antisocial. And rightly so.
More worryingly, a 2015 survey of men aged 18- 40 by Jesse Fox and Margaret Rooney in the journal
Personality And Individual Differences revealed that the amount of time spent on social networking sites, posting selfies and, revealingly, editing selfies to make them look better, was correlated with traits like narcissism and psychopathy. This isn’t to say social networks cause these things, but they offer an outlet, a way for them to be expressed free of consequence, where they may otherwise be criticised or challenged, thus ensuring more socially acceptable behaviours.
Another intriguing finding, from a 2015 study led by Prof Joy Peluchette at Lindenwood University, was that certain types of behaviour on social networks – namely extroversion and ‘openness’ – actually increase the odds of being a victim of cyberbullying. It may sound counterintuitive, but it makes a certain amount of sense. A person may typically keep their more flamboyant or expressive natures suppressed, because social norms deter such things. Subtle signs of discomfort in those around you, awkward body language and responses, muted atmospheres… these all act to keep gregarious or overly personal tendencies in check, to some extent.
However, such cues aren’t present online, so you can be as overly expressive or personal as you like on there. But other people may find this unsettling or off-putting, or could see it as cynical attentionseeking. Either way, they react aggressively, and attack the person. But social networks also protect the attacker from the consequences of their actions, introducing a distance and degree of anonymity between themselves and their victim, shielding them from the immediate effects, but supplying the same ‘rush’ of having lowered someone’s status and boosted their own. So social networks again become a way to facilitate and perpetuate antisocial actions.
Social networks also give us the ability to pick and choose what we see and hear from others, meaning we can end up in the oft- cited ‘echo chamber’. Social networks make it much easier to form groups, and constantly remain part of them. This can give us a more ‘extreme’ leanings, making more intolerant of contrasting views as we grow unused to encountering them. What should be a casual meet-up in a pub can easily become a blistering row about a football team. Antisocial behaviour, caused by social networks.
It’s not all doom and gloom. More nervous or socially awkward people can be liberated by the controlled and organised communication offered by social networks, and great friendships and relationships can form across the world now that would never have been able to exist before. But the truth is, for all that they may sometimes not work that well, the human brain has evolved a variety of systems to make sure social interaction happens as efficiently as possible. Social networks, though, throw many spanners in the works here, causing overall disruption, which can sometimes mean they end up achieving the opposite of what they’re built for, and making people antisocial.
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Spending time socialising with people can be hard work for the brain