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Earlier this year, researchers from Dr. Eva Telzer’s lab published their work in JAMA Pediatrics. Their exciting findings, which were covered not only locally by WRAL, but nationally by both CNN and The New York Times are summarized below. Congratulations to Dr. Telzer and her team!

Social media platforms allow adolescents to have unprecedented opportunities for social interaction during a critical developmental period when their brains are especially sensitive to social feedback. Researchers conducted a 3-year longitudinal study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore whether there was an association between adolescents’ frequency of checking behaviors on social media platforms and longitudinal changes in brain development.

Adolescent participants reported the frequency at which they checked three different social media platforms. Additionally, they underwent an fMRI scan annually for three years in which they played a Social Incentive Delay task – a computerized task that is designed to measure neural activation in response to anticipating and receiving social feedback.

The study found that teens around 12 years of age who checked social media habitually – more than 15 times per day – showed increasing sensitivity to anticipated social feedback in brain regions linked to motivational relevance, affective salience, and cognitive control over time. In other words, these teens were becoming more attuned to social rewards and punishments. Meanwhile, teens who did not check social media as often become less sensitive to social feedback over time.

Importantly, this increasing sensitivity to social information in teens who habitually check social media might prompt future compulsive social media checking; however, it may also be adaptive by helping them navigate social interactions in their increasingly digital worlds. More research needs to be done to determine how these differences might be impacting adolescents’ social and emotional outcomes.

This paper, published in JAMA Pediatrics, was jointly co-authored by Maria Maza and Kara Fox, graduate students in the psychology and neuroscience department and supervised by Dr. Eva Telzer.

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