Disrupted sleep, lower life satisfaction and poor self-esteem are just a few of the negative mental health consequences that research has linked to social media.
Somehow the same platforms that can help people feel more connected and knowledgeable also contribute to loneliness and disinformation.
What succeeds and fails, computer scientists argue, is a function of how these platforms are designed.
Amanda Baughan, a graduate student specializing in human-computer interaction, a subfield of computer science, at the University of Washington, believes that interdisciplinary research could inform better social platforms and apps. At the 2022 Association for Computing Machinery Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May, she presented findings from a recent project that explored how social media triggers what psychologists call “dissociation,” or a state of reduced self-reflection and narrowed attention.
Baughan spoke with Mind Matters editor Daisy Yuhas to explain how and why apps need to change to give the people who use them greater power.
Before the pandemic, psychoanalyst Josh Cohen’s patients might come into his consulting room, lie down on the couch and talk about the traffic or the weather, or the rude person on the tube. Now they appear on his computer screen and tell him about brain fog. They talk with urgency of feeling unable to concentrate in meetings, to read, to follow intricately plotted television programmes.
“There’s this sense of debilitation, of losing ordinary facility with everyday life; a forgetfulness and a kind of deskilling,” says Cohen, author of the self-help book How to Live. What to Do. Although restrictions are now easing across the UK, with greater freedom to circulate and socialise, he says lockdown for many of us has been “a contraction of life, and an almost parallel contraction of mental capacity”.
This dulled, useless state of mind – epitomised by the act of going into a room and then forgetting why we are there – is so boring, so lifeless.
But researchers believe it is far more interesting than it feels: even that this common experience can be explained by cutting-edge neuroscience theories, and that studying it could further scientific understanding of the brain and how it changes. I ask Jon Simons, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, could it really be something “sciencey”?
Large samples of dog DNA and behavioral information are hard to come by, so two research projects are asking “citizen scientists” to collect it from their pets.
“We know a lot more about the bodies of our dogs and how they can break down, more than what we know about their brains and behavior,” Hare said. “The reason we do not know about genes involved with brain and behavioral problems is there has never been a large scale study combining behavioral and genetic data on thousands of dogs.”