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The Effects of Social Media on Our Cognition

The Effects of Social Media on Our Cognition

Introduction

Social media has virtually revolutionized our way of communication is known as a stable set of interactions between people. However, frequent use is perceived as alienating with a negative side effect. Problems can arise when social networks become a virtual simulation of reality. Social media provide an excellent source of information and can ease loneliness and raise self-confidence but also require caution.

Our brain requires constant stimulation, and social media can have the ability to satisfy our curiosity, activate the collector’s instinct and provide emotional satisfaction. Psychological research has shown that the so-called “pleasure center” in the brain is engaged in the use of social media, the same ones that provide us with a sense of comfort that we usually associate with food, sex, money, and social acceptance. Numerous studies on the impact of media have underlined both their positive and negative aspects, including their influence on socialization, learning, and cognitive abilities. This paper aims at analyzing three studies on the possible (positive) interaction between the use of social media and increased levels of cognitive abilities and creativity.

Study 1: Social Networking Sites and Cognitive Abilities: Do They Make You Smarter?

Aim

In a study conducted by Alloway, Horton, Alloway & Dawson (2013), the authors aimed to identify the impact of the social networking sites (SNS) on cognition, as well as the way SNS affects the self-reported level of social connectedness in the adolescent population. Considering that about 80% of adolescents (aged between 12 and 17) in America have social networking profile (Alloway et al., 2013), the authors felt the need to investigate the correlation of the SNS and cognitive abilities, as well as the impact of SNS on socialization processes in the virtual environment. (Alloway et al., 2013) This study is an extension of an earlier study that primarily focused on college students since the adolescent brain is considered to be highly impressionable and the brain is preparing for the increased, yet specific learning and are more susceptible to engraining.

Hypothesis

The research is consist of two two-tailed experimental hypotheses, and one one-tailed empirical hypothesis articulated to three research questions. The question of correlation between the length of engagement with different types of SNS and cognitive skills/academic attainment; the question of correlation between active or passive participation with SNS and cognitive abilities/educational attainment; and the question of correlation between the increased SNS engagement and higher levels of social connectedness.

Participants

The study population consisted of 104 adolescents from a single public high/secondary school in the UK, aged between 15 and 17, with 51.5% of the participants being a female student.

Materials/measures

The participants in the study were tested on verbal ability, working memory, and learning outcomes by social connectedness scale and social media questionnaire. The researchers used standardized tests from Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, Automated Working Memory Assessment, Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Wechsler Objective Reading Dimensions, and Wechsler Objective Numerical Dimensions.

Data Collection Procedure

To measure social connectedness, seven out of the eight questions form the Social Connectedness Scale were used. Participants responded to the questions about the social media to estimate both active and passive use of social media use. In the course of data analysis, Twitter-related results were removed since only 6% of the participants reported using it over the previous six months.

Results

Descriptive statistics indicate that all students scored averagely in all four cognitive tests – Verbal ability, Working memory, Math, and Spelling. To determine the impact of the length of engagement with SNS on cognitive skills, participants were classified into high and low Facebook users. The results show that the high Facebook users achieved better results in Working Memory, Verbal ability, and Spelling, in comparison to low Facebook users. The findings indicate that of all Facebook activities checking friend’s status updates was the best predictor of the performance in the verbal ability test.

The participants were also classified into high and low YouTube users, and the results showed no significant difference between the two groups on all the cognitive tests. In their effort to single out at least one predictor of performance in cognitive tests related to frequency and length of YouTube activity, the researchers carried out a series of stepwise regression analyses, with the standard scores of the different cognitive tests. However, there was no evidence that YouTube activities predicted performance in any of the cognitive test scores with no influence of Active or Passive YouTube uses on any of the cognitive tests’ scores.

Discussion

In terms of the correlation between the length of engagement with different types of SNS and cognitive skills/academic attainments, the researchers concluded that adolescents with more prolonged use of Facebook scored better. The process of Facebook browsing, getting the information, processing and manipulating them is considered similar to the process involved in the working memory ability, which could indicate that individuals using Facebook longer may improve their working memory scores. Moreover, verbal ability and spelling scores were considerably higher in high Facebook users – probably through the acquisition of knowledge. Spelling scores in high Facebook users were also attributed to the length of engagement with Facebook and acquired proficiency in fast reading and spelling. Mathematical concepts are generally not related to any of the Facebook activities which is why the researcher could not make any connection between the length of using Facebook and math. Nevertheless, this conclusion is unsubstantial and need further research, especially within the clinical setting to determine the benefits of the regular “practice” of using SNS. Additionally, motivation and personality are not as relevant in standardized assessments. A limitation of the study refers to the study not being a longitudinal study which is why different explanations and long-term impacts may be addressed in the future studies.

Regarding the correlation between the passive/active use of Facebook and YouTube (based on the cumulative time spent on these SNS), the findings of the study show no considerable difference in cognitive skills or academic attainment. Although the results indicate that the usual amount of time they spent on these activities does not correlate with their cognitive tests achievements. There is a possibility, implied by other studies that SNS engagement influences activities are affecting GPA. The study offered an alternative explanation relating to adolescents’ brain development, which means that students do not need regular engagement to potentially impact their cognitive skills.

Through frequent SNS use, adolescents communicate only a part of the intended message which could be due to the low levels of reported social connectedness. Additional research is needed to identify discrepancies between the reported levels of social connectedness in people using SNS and face-to-face communication. Furthermore, the findings of the study need additional validation, since the sample comprises students who generally interact with the same people they share social connections with.

Study 2: Looking Beyond the Generation of Creative Ideas: Confidence in Evaluating Ideas Predicts Creative Outcomes

Aim

Steele, Johnson & Medeiros’ study (2018) aimed at expanding current research on creative self-efficacy (CSE) as it has primarily over-emphasized the generative aspects of creativity and ignored its evaluative elements crucial for the process of developing new ideas. The study sought to address this by developing a new instrument to evaluate new ideas: idea evaluation self-efficacy (IESE) that encompasses two studies. The first study aimed to develop a new measure focusing on IESE to complement current rules of CSE and asses the evidence for the validity of the established action. The second study aimed to evaluate the criterion-related validity of the newly-developed measure of IESE, which led to examining ways in which CSE and IESE differentially predict the two main dimensions of creativity – novelty, usefulness, and cross-validate IESE (Steele, Johnson & Medeiros, 2018).

Hypotheses

Study 1: the experimental hypotheses were: IESE will be positively related to conscientiousness and individual preference for evaluation, and IESE will be unrelated to fixed creative mindsets.

Study 2: The experimental hypotheses of the second study were: CSE will be positively related to the novelty of ideas, and IESE will be positively associated with the usefulness of concepts.

Participants

Study 1: Participants were sampled from an undergraduate introductory psychology course in exchange for course credit – 297 participants, median age 19, 73.4% female, and 71% white. The study population limits both the generalisability and usefulness of the study.

Study 2: Participants were sampled from an undergraduate introductory psychology course in exchange for course credit – 206 participants, median age 19, 72.3% female and 77% white. The study population limits both the generalisability and usefulness of the study.

Material/measures

Study 1:  The study measures included conscientiousness, preference for the evaluative aspects of creativity, and CSE. Participants viewed the new measure of IESE, as well as ways to assess the convergent and discriminative validity of the measure. For both studies, data was collected online using Qualtrics.

Study 2: The study found support for both its hypotheses, as IESE positively related to conscientiousness and individual preference for the evaluative aspects of creativity, and IESE was non-significantly correlated with fixed creative mindsets. The discussion highlighted that the next step in the overall research was to measure the criterion validity of the newly-developed measure, which was addressed in the second study.

Data Collection Procedure

Study 1: The study measures included CSE, IESE, and four other dimensions that the researchers deemed to be control variables of creativity: general self-efficacy, intelligence, openness, and divergent thinking. Participants underwent personality and self-efficacy tests, completed a creative problem-solving task. During the study participants pretended to be a product development manager for a chain of restaurants and were asked to develop novel ideas concerning the chain’s expansion in a local community.

Results

The results of Study 2 did not support its first hypothesis, as CSE was not positively correlated to the novelty of the final restaurant proposal created by participants. The study’s second hypothesis was supported, as IESE was positively related to the usefulness of the restaurant proposals. A strength of both studies is the employment of small significance levels in data analysis. These ranged from p < 0.05 to p < 0.01, indicating a high level of reliability in the results.

Discussion

By examining CSE, the researchers have observed that self-efficacy in relation to the evaluative portion of the creative process has long been neglected. The researchers believe that IESE could be a significant determinant of future studies in the field. However, in this study all 297 participants were taken from a single course, the mean age of the participants was 19, with 73.4% female and 71% white participants. Such numbers considerably undermine the usefulness and generalisability of the results in relation to the general population. The research on creativity has been the focal point for many researchers for a long time. The modern notion of creativity has already underlined the generative aspects of creativity, which has led to the measurement of the dominant operationalization of CSE.

Study 3: Social Media Engagement: What Motivates User Participation and Consumption on YouTube?

Aim

Khan (2017) conducted a study that aimed to reveal the motivation behind YouTube user behaviors, including active participation and passive content consumption. The study also focused on discussing how the role of an engaged audience is manifested and understand the effects of anonymity, experience, and gender of YouTube behavior.

Hypothesis

Building from the goals of the study, the researcher developed a set of hypotheses related to the correlation between the participation, consumption, and a corresponding set of two-tailed research questions focused on identifying;

  • What are the motivations for participation on YouTube that predict liking, disliking, commenting, sharing, uploading, viewing videos, and reading comments?
  • Are users more likely to participate in YouTube behaviors such as liking/ disliking/ commenting/ sharing uploading if they are anonymous users, rather than non-anonymous users?
  • Are users more likely to engage in participation on YouTube if they have been visiting the site for a more significant amount of time?
  • To what extent are individual’s YouTube behaviors associated with gender?

Participants

The study sample comprised 1143 registered YouTube users – students at a large mid-western university.

Material/measures

Measures included in the survey were user behavior and engagement (both passive consumption and active participation), which included liking, disliking, commenting, sharing, uploading, viewing, and reading comments. Users motivations to participate included information seeking, information giving, self-status seeking, social interaction, having a relaxing environment, the personal characteristics of the YouTube user from a sample population, the frequency of YouTube use, and how it was used.

Data Collection Procedure

Data was collected using online surveys that employed the “Uses and Gratifications” (U&G) Framework, which is seen as the strength of the study as U&G Framework is an established framework for media research that examines the psychological needs and gratifications of individuals. This means the established uses of U&G Framework are in line with the study’s measures, making its data a reliable way to examine the study’s proposals and supports the accuracy of the results. Moreover, the online surveys were distributed to the students via email.

Results

The research findings indicate that the relaxing setting is a key predictor of sharing and supporting the content; the social interaction is a predictor of commenting; males disliked the content more frequently than women; anonymity promoted the content and increased the interaction with the material.

Discussion

This research was successful in answering all of its research questions. The number of questions supports the efficiency of the study. The study’s discussion reiterated the results to address: understanding the liking phenomenon of YouTube users, information seeking on YouTube, information giving from YouTube to others via other social media platforms, explaining social interaction within the context of YouTube, how and why users use YouTube to achieve a relaxing environment, the role of anonymity in video sharing and uploading, examining the role of gender in YouTube engagement, and lastly social media experience and the user fatigue phenomenon, whereby user activity shifts from being more active to more passive over time. A weakness of the study at this level was that though the study population was relatively large, the actual response rate to the surveys was only around 9%, with some responses being excluded from the analysis. This means that the study may have produced results that are not wholly representative of all the students from the chosen university. Given that only one university was selected to generate the sample population, this limited response rate suggests that the results may lack generalisability to other students. Furthermore, generating the sample population among the students limits the generalisability to the non-student proportion of YouTube’s user population.

Critical Evaluation of Articles

A shortcoming of the Study 1 can be found in the fact that it was conducted on two separate occasions which may indicate that the results of the two testing periods do not correlate accurately. Moreover, using questionnaires to measure technology use introduces subjectivity and the possibility of unreliability due to participants lying when giving answers. This, finally, implies that the findings should be approached with caution, as they may have limited accuracy and reliability. Nevertheless, the study suggests that certain correlational aspects may be identified between the frequency and manner of SNS usage and cognitive abilities/academic achievement, that could be more empirically supported by further research. Regardless of several limitations to the study, it contributes to the general awareness of the issue and provides certain directions in the way SNS influence cognitive skills – primarily Facebook, which was related to higher scores on verbal ability, working memory, and spelling tests – possibly due to the “training” effect. Also, higher social connectedness scores were recognized in high Facebook users, which indicates that certain SNS activities can result in social benefits for the users.

In Study 2, comprising two studies, a new measure of IESE was developed – the measured correlations significantly underpin the convergent and discriminant validity of the IESE measure. Regardless of the positive perspectives observed in the findings of the first study, the researchers developed the next step – evaluation of the criterion-related validity of the measure using the creative problem-solving task. In the second study, the authors investigated how CSE and IESE distinctively predict the two critical dimensions of creativity—novelty, and usefulness. The strength of the second study was demonstrated by IESE measurements that were cross-validated with a second sample, improving the security of the initial measures.  Also, the motivation for creativity is underpinned by an individual’s confidence in their generative and evaluative efficacies. A strength of both studies is that they advance the current research on individual-level predictors of creativity.

The criteria for the participants to evaluate their initial ideas were not clearly defined which implies certain ambiguity regarding the relationship between IESE and idea evaluation, that could be the focus of future research. Moreover, in the second study, the creativity was observed in one sphere only. Regardless of perception of the creative process as domain-general in many studies, creativity in different domains necessitate distinctive domain-specific skills. People may exhibit different levels of self-efficacy in different domains – a person producing brilliant ideas in food service domain may be significantly less self-efficient in a scientific area, which, again, could be a topic of further research. There was also a considerably small correlation between CSE and idea novelty and usefulness, which may be justified by the operationalization of creativity in the second study. The majority of studies accept the notion that creative ideas have to be novel and useful, but creativity is rarely operationalized with two separate scores, which is why the findings of this study may not be unique and may require additional research to encompass both unidimensional and multidimensional measures. Finally, these studies aimed at evaluating self-efficacy at the between-person although many studies emphasize the negative correlation between self-efficacy and performance if assessed at a within-person level.

The weakness of the Study 3 is demonstrated in use of pre-set motivation scales. Using these as opposed to open-ended questions about behavior may have limited the information obtained, as open questions have the potential for providing more qualitative motivational insight than pre-set motivational scales. Nevertheless, the study significantly contributed to understanding the relationship between U&G and the way users engagement is exhibited on YouTube, which considerably facilitates the theoretical and practical concerns of the designers of such systems.

Own Perspective/Conclusion

These studies contribute to the general awareness of the issue. Although additional research is necessary, the studies provide specific directions in the way SNS influence cognitive skills and our daily life – primarily Facebook, which was related to higher scores of verbal ability, working memory, and spelling tests – possibly due to the “training” effect. However, YouTube could not be connected to performance in any of the cognitive ability tests. Also, higher social connectedness scores were recognized in high Facebook users, that indicates that specific SNS activities can result in social benefits for the users.

A considerable number of studies have aimed at identifying the correlation between the usage of social network sites and the regular course of cognitive development. Although, many researchers indicate that the frequency of engaging in activities related to SNS influence and our cognitive thinking. However, those changes are not perceived as decreasing users’ ability to function in both the real-life and virtual world. Others emphasize that the amount of time spent on SNS may be associated with high level of social connectedness and participation in peer groups and higher levels of cognitive abilities such as multitasking and task-switching. In our society in which the use of Internet and SNS is seen as pervasive – this type of engagement may be perceived as necessary for accomplishing key developmental goals in adolescence and a constructive reaction to a changing environment.

There are certain conclusions drawn from the proceedings of these studies that could support evidence for changes in cognitive abilities. However, these studies have focused on adolescents, which signifies the necessity of further studies that would be able to encompass a significant amount of literature on the correlation between cognitive abilities and SNS and integrate findings related to online behaviours. Also, the total impact of SNS usage and its correlation with cognitive abilities and academic achievements should be measured in consideration of other factors including performance goal orientation, self-regulation, polychronicity, and satisfaction with life affecting the presumed positive/negative impact of SNS on academic achievement and cognitive development. Further studies could include different target population who do not necessarily interact with the same people in face-to-face social relationships and SNS environment.

References

Alloway, T. P., Horton, J., Alloway, R. G., & Dawson, C. (2013). Social networking sites and cognitive abilities: Do they make you smarter? Computers & Education, 63, 10-16. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.10.030

Khan, M. L. (2017). Social media engagement: What motivates user participation and consumption on YouTube? Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 236-247. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.09.024

Steele, L. M., Johnson, G., & Medeiros, K. E. (2018). Looking beyond the generation of creative ideas: Confidence in evaluating ideas predicts creative outcomes. Personality and Individual Differences, 125, 21-29. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2017.12.028

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About The Author

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Ehsan Shabahang is a Brand and Marketing Strategist who partners with companies to grow their personal and professional brands, human-to-human. After spending years working with companies, and studying Ehsan started AtReef, Ehsan knows what truly drives conversions and how to help others. "It is how well you connect with the heart-beating people you’re trying to help and help communicate your understanding back to them."

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