Is TikTok Bad For Your Brain?

Is TikTok Bad For Your Brain?

What are your plans for the next five years? 

If you are not able to conceptualize a five-year plan and you think that anybody who asks such a question is insane – Welcome! This post is exclusively written for you. 

The 4th Most Downloaded App on iPhone (after YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat) and the 2nd Most Downloaded App in 2019 on both Android and iPhone was in news recently. Yes, we are talking about TikTok. (Recently in news for the YouTube vs. TikTok debate) 

With more than 800 million users worldwide who spend an average of 50 minutes per day on the platform, TikTok is often said to be more addictive than cocaine. We all know the impact of cocaine on our brain, but how does TikTok affect us? Let’s understand.

Time Compression

In my last post, Dopamine is Dope, I explained how dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward. Unpredictability increases the anticipation. TikTok users receive a constant stream of new videos, every 15 seconds. In other words, new stimuli are thrust on you automatically every 15 seconds. 

Going at this rapid pace from one video to another shortens attention spans. You need to be attentive for a mere 15 seconds, and then another one appears.

Your brain gets trained in a way that it need ‘something exciting’ every 15 seconds. Do you think that’s a possibility in real life?

Our attention span is so lowered, that about 70% of the readers of this post would have quit by now or have simply scrolled down and closed the window. 

How is Short Attention Span harmful?

Short attention span, coupled with weakened ability to concentrate, can produce several negative effects, such as poor performance at work or school, inability to complete daily tasks, missing important details or information, and difficulties in communicating in relationships.

Do I Have a Short Attention Span?

A simple and effective way to check this, ask these questions: 

  • Do you believe your relationship is not exciting enough to continue? 
  • Do you often get bored of things happening around you or people who you hang out with?  
  • Did you recently start a hobby (Cooking, YouTube Channel, Sketching, etc.) and quit mid-way? 
  • Do you subconsciously believe that if spending a month on a craft/skill is not giving you desired results, you should try and pursue something else?

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then you are suffering from a severe short attention span. Still not convinced? 

Try to watch a movie from the 50s, 60s or even 70s. In most cases, within minutes you’ll be wondering: when will something happen?

Random Reinforcement

Okay, we have realized that if we continue using apps like TikTok, there are chances that our attention span will be lowered. But why is it so addictive? Why do you keep scrolling the screens? 

There is a concept in psychology called – Intermittent Reinforcement (or Random Reinforcement). It is a conditioning schedule in which a reward (reinforcement) is not administered every time the desired response is performed. 

So, you keep scrolling, because sometimes you see something you like, and sometimes you don’t. And that differentiation is unpredictable. Unpredictability leads to anticipation and that leads to dopamine release.

It is similar to watching Money Heist. You watch the first two episodes in anticipation. Sometimes the Professor wins, and sometimes he loses. And this unpredictability ensures that you watch the next episode and the next and so on. 

Passive Consumption

You also keep scrolling because the relationship of users to TikTok is stupendously passive. 

We are all used to a phenomenon: opening multiple tabs on our web browser. It is easier to move from one item to another on the internet. But, there’s still some amount of activity involved to decide what content you want to access.

However, apps like TikTok are worse: once you swipe down, new stimuli are thrust on you automatically every 15 seconds, with no further actions needed on your part.

Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows argues that the plethora of stimulation on the internet, only a click away, encourages people to move all the time from one activity to another, something often misnamed “multitasking”: the brain cannot actually do two tasks at once.

The Remedy:

  1. Try to practice a skill that requires your undivided attention. (Singing, Drawing, Music, or even Cooking) 
  2. Master the art of Patience
  3. Strictly put away your mobile phone when you are in the presence of your friends, colleagues or family
  4. Practice Digital Detox to increase Dopamine Tolerance once a week
  5. Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.
Suyash Varma

Suyash Varma

Suyash H Varma is the Founder President of Wake Up India Foundation - a youth organisation aimed towards driving social and political change in India. The organisation has its branches across 4 states in India.

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