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TikTok is a very captivating and enjoyable application. However, using it irresponsibly can damage our mental wellbeing.

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a platform for sharing and creating short videos that allows users to do so quickly and easily in a format that is suitable for consumption. TikTok was created and launched in 2016 by the company ByteDance in China, where the platform goes under the name Douyin. (While essentially identical platforms, it’s worth noting that TikTok and Douyin are kept separate from one another and users do not have access to cross-content; this is, of course, intentional and due to Chinese governmental oversight of the internet and all media in the country.) Within a few short years the video app had become a global phenomenon that today has been downloaded literally billions of times.

In recent years, TikTok has grown in popularity, especially among the younger generation of the population. In fact, adolescents and adults equally can spend hours and hours scrolling through these brilliantly put together clips. It seems like an excellent form of entertainment, however there are additionally big dangers associated. Due to this, we’re going to be talking about the effects of TikTok on the brain to you today.

TikTok Brain

Some of the negative effects of this platform, such as shorter concentration spans, elevated anxiety, and depression, are referred to as “TikTok brain.” Spending too much time on TikTok can become problematic and addictive.

Technology addiction is nothing new

According to PsyCom, Dr. Ivan Goldberg, a psychologist, coined the phrase “Internet Addiction Disorder” in the middle of the 1990s while ironically making fun of it. What he had thought would be a little lark for his colleagues in the mental health field ended up being unadulterated prescience. We now engage with so many different types of media across so many different platforms that referring to the internet alone hardly covers the topic at hand. As a result, terms like Internet Addiction Disorder and a few other synonymous terms like Compulsive Internet Use (CIU) may seem a little dated.

However, many users have a high degree of dependency when it comes to TikTok. People who are TikTok addicted aren’t just highly addicted to technology in general and spend a lot of time on TikTok; they are actually TikTok addicted. This is not to suggest that the same person won’t also spend excessive amounts of time gaming, browsing Instagram or Reddit, or watching YouTube videos, but for many people, TikTok tends to be the most alluring form of media. And that’s exactly how it was designed to be by the people who created and perpetuate the platform.

Addictive Form of TikTok

Since the TikTok algorithm is based on interests, it displays content that relates to what users have previously viewed, whether or not they interacted with it. The algorithm can easily detect someone’s interests and pastimes, sense of humor, fashion sense, musical tastes, gender or sexuality, and many other characteristics. This perfectly harmless personalized viewing experience can lead users unhealthy attitudes and behaviors and overwhelm them with unproductive content.

With the ideal video length being between 21 and 34 seconds, the social media app has helped short-form videos become more and more interesting.Kids are finding it difficult to concentrate as a result, making it difficult for them to do anything else from read a book or finish their schoolwork to watch a complete movie.

How these TikTok contents affect the brain

Every time users watch a video on TikTok, dopamines is released in their brains in a way that mimics the effects of drugs and there is not much that can compete with this type of stimulation. Young people are more predisposed to addiction because their brain development is not complete until they reach 25 to 30 years old. 

TikTok works on the basis of the psychological concept of random reinforcement: the never-ending stream of videos is addictive in and of itself because we anticipate receiving an incentive (in the form of a funny video, followed by a burst of dopamine in the brain) at any moment. TikTok’s rapid succession of dopamine spikes is what resembles gambling; according to study, addiction causes the human brain to progressively shrink.

A 2013 MRI research demonstrates that frontal cortex structural atrophy is a result of online game addiction. Another study from 2018 found that using smartphones for more than seven hours a day causes visible atrophy in the brains of children aged 9 to 10. This may seem excessive, but recent data shows that average screen time is increasing overall, 4-6 hours for children aged 8 to 12 and over 8 hours for teenagers since the pandemic started.

Drastically reduces memory and attention

Concentration and short-term recall are also impacted. TikTokers claim that they can no longer concentrate on watching longer time video formats, or even just reading a book or doing their schoolwork. Users confess that longer videos “stress” them out to the amount of 50%. In an effort to broaden its offering for advertising, the platform did debut longer video formats up to 10 minutes long earlier in 2022. However, marketers are conscious that extremely short videos continue to be the most engaging content type for young audiences.

Other social media platforms start to seem “slow” and uninteresting in comparison to this quick-loading software that delivers fresh content at the click of a switch.

Our minds process visual information more quickly than text. The development of children’s reading abilities will lag behind their use of social media, which is why videos will always outweigh text-based information online. However, TikTok is worse than most other social media platforms for developing reading habits in younger people because it contains no text at all.

TikTok also affects mental health

Many teenagers find TikTok to be a fun way to keep themselves busy, updated, and involved. However, for some people, sharing and obsessive videos can be detrimental to their emotional health. The following are some ways that TikTok may have an impact on young people’s emotional health:

TikTok is also exposed to offensive, false, and distorted content. Children and teenagers frequently compare themselves to the “ideal lifestyles” and “perfect bodies” they see online, without really realizing the lies, bias, and filters that are in use. This may result in issues with self-esteem and psychological illnesses.

Additionally, it’s even possible that the algorithm contributes to current or emerging mental health issues. This is due to the fact that it features both entertaining and content related to people’s anxieties and fears. As a result, someone who suffers from depression or an eating problem might be more exposed to content about those conditions.

What Are the Signs of TikTok Addiction

When an individual isn’t using TikTok, their addiction is most obvious. When they go too long without scrolling through TikTok, they might exhibit symptoms of irritability, anxiety, sadness, or even anger. These symptoms might get worse when they are specifically denied access to the platform, like when they are getting a punishment from their parents.

And one of the obvious signs of a TikTok addiction is spending an excessive amount of time on the app. If you discover that after opening TikTok with the intention of scrolling for just ten minutes, an hour has vanished, that’s a big red flag.

You can also check yourself behavior on this website to do the quiz of “How Addicted Are You To TikTok?”

How to Break a TikTok Addiction

You might want to assist them in reducing their reliance on TikTok if you find that you are continually scrolling through it and it is becoming a problem. Having regular breaks will strengthen the connections in their brain and make it easier to stop again the next time, even though they may initially be hesitant to reduce their intake.

Here are strategies for limiting screen time and resetting the brain:

-The first step in weaning oneself off TikTok or at least reducing frequency is to genuinely evaluate the use case. To find out how much time you actually spend on TikTok, check the data on your phone. Then, set new, more achievable goals for how much time you spend using the app.

-Set a timer or “TikTok screen time” function which users will be able to turn off this new default setting for when you do use the app to help you maintain focus and stick to your substantially reduced goals. Furthermore, decide when and where you will never use TikTok. To name just a few, these might include bedtime and the bedroom in general or the hour after you finish school.

TikTok announced that every user under 18 will soon have their accounts default to a one-hour daily screen time limit, in one of the most aggressive moves yet by a social media company to prevent teens from endlessly scrolling-(CNN)

-You can rewire your brain to accept that it’s OK to occasionally be without TikTok by arranging TikTok-free times and locations, and you’ll soon be able to go for ever longer without using the app.

-Another option if you’re struggling to overcome a TikTok addiction is to attempt a form of replacement therapy; rather than simply removing TikTok from your life, add some new activities to your life.

Although TikTok is not completely to blame, all of the so-called “traditional” social media platforms have started to imitate its addictive features in an effort to attract younger audiences with engaging video content. Both YouTube and Instagram increased their Reels in an effort to mimic the TikTok experience and remain relevant.

Now that you are aware of how TikTok impacts the brain, you must take appropriate action.
We don’t want to demonize this platform even though, like many others, it has risks and drawbacks. In fact, as long as you know how to keep proper habits, you can benefit from it and appreciate its content. You need to set time limits for use, be mindful of the content you consume, and, most importantly, understand the potential effects the app can have on you.

Footnotes

1. https://exploringyourmind.com/how-tiktok-affects-the-brain/

2. https://socialmediapsychology.eu/2022/08/18/tiktok-is-killing-your-brain-right-now/

3. https://gamequitters.com/tiktok-brain/

4. https://www.goalcast.com/tiktok-addiction-is-real-here-are-the-signs/

5.https://edition.cnn.com/2023/03/01/tech/tiktok-teen-screen-time-limit/index.html