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Cognitive Impacts of Social Media and Digital Devices

As an educator that works both in educational technology and teaching psychology, I have a natural infinity for the intersection between technology and psychology. One area of this intersection that interests me is the impact social media has on us cognitively.

Image Licensed from Shutterstock

Image Licensed from Shutterstock

Interesting research exists about the impacts social media has on attention and emotions. In regards to attention, the research tends to focus on the issue of multitasking. What we are actually doing is not multitasking, but task-switching, which is switching from one task to another very quickly. Many people these days have multiple windows open on their computer and have their smartphone nearby while they work. Social media sites are often open on both devices, especially with today’s students. This issue has been the main culprit in the increase in task-switching. Research is showing that our brain doesn’t really have the capacity to multitask or task-switch. There are biological reasons for this. As this article explains,

“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new – the proverbial shiny objects we use to entice infants, puppies, and kittens.”

Maybe the brain will evolve its capacity to be an efficient multitasking machine like a computer, but until then, which will be way beyond our lifetime, multitasking should be considered a bad habit because of these reasons and the negative impacts they bring on our ability to focus our attention.

In the realm of emotion, fascinating research exists about how constant use of digital devices is affecting our ability to read emotions in the real world. A 2014 study done by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles found that sixth graders who went 5 days without access to any screens (mobile, computer, or TV) showed a better ability to read human emotions than peers who continued their digital screen habits. The conclusion was that we, especially kids, can’t learn non-verbal emotional cues through digital devices. We can only learn those through consistent face-to-face interactions with other people.

The recommendations for both of these cognitive impacts wouldn’t be to abandon our digital devices completely. Turning them off when we really need to focus on a task is usually a good approach. Otherwise, finding a balance and using devices in moderation would be the best approach.

This post is cross-posted here.

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Reading and Video Resources for (IB) Psychology

The below resources are ones I have my elective and IB Psychology students reference throughout the course for additional reading and research. These are professional sites with quality summaries and/or access to original research reports.

Below the reading resources are some video playlists I compiled that give nice overviews of concepts within each of the Levels of Analyses and the option in IB Psychology. The videos are short, yet effective in helping visualize the concepts in those units.

  • THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION – The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. Tons of articles and research studies on all topics related to psychology.
  • THE BRITISH PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY– The British equivalent of the APA.
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH ON THE NET – Provides links to known experiments on the internet that are psychologically related. They are organized by general topic area with the topic areas listed chronologically with the most recently added at the top.
  • ELECTRONIC JOURNALS AND PERIODICALS IN PSYCHOLOGY – An exhaustive list of psychology journals and periodicals. These journals are where you find original reports about psychological research studies (qualitative, quantitative, secondary reviews of literature, and meta-analyses).
  • PSYBLOG – Professionally written summaries of psychological research relating to everyday life.
  • PSYCH CENTRAL – Very thorough website with news, articles, and current research and issues in psychology.
  • THE PSYCHOLOGIST – The monthly publication of the British Psychological Society.
  • PSYCHOLOGY TODAY – Popular American magazine devoted to news, stories, and research related to psychology.
  • SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND – This is my favorite magazine related to psychology. Unfortunately, you only get previews of the articles here. You have to subscribe to get full access. It could be worth the subscription cost if you are thinking about majoring in psychology in university!

Biological Level of Analysis

Cognitive Level of Analysis

Sociocultural Level of Analysis

Abnormal Psychology

This post is cross-posted on the Pamoja Education Psychology Blog.

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