PART V: Cognition and Digital Media
Social media has dominantly taken over the culture amongst all age groups, especially, in the current generation. It has expanded by using a social networking system that allows for a common platform that brings a variety of opinions and understanding. When using social media, repetitive behaviors such as scrolling through feeds, liking, commenting, and sharing all types of content happens that influence us, even when we think it’s not. Cognition is the mental processes, like perception, attention, and memory, that are created by the mind. Social media directly influences social norms and ideologies, suggesting how to be to follow the current trends. The issues surrounding the effects of social media is the lack of attention to what we choose to view and the underlying psychological effects that contribute to our cognitive processes. Social network intervention can help to prevent the effects of unconscious social media usage, using the practice of mindfulness to help users to use the discretion of which sources of media receive attention.
To elaborate on how a person is being influenced by social media while mindlessly scrolling, one first needs to understand how the brain works. While mindlessly going about random tweets, pictures, and videos, the brain is actively engaged in different areas, forming our perception. Social media activates many different parts of our cortex at once, and its multidimensionality (the quality of a construct that cannot be adequately described by measuring a single trait or attribute) in pair with the rate of neuron firing can create cognitive processes without our realization. While thinking that the brain is not engaged in an activity when we are not paying attention, neurons are continuously being stimulated. The resting potential of a neuron is around 70 millivolts, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans illustrate and predict the activity throughout the brain. Even during sleep, the brain is continuously engaged with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We initiate cognitive processes while using social media and are engaged in it, whether aware or not.
Attention is the ability to focus on specific stimuli and acts as a filter to all of the information our senses receive. While we think we may be mindlessly scrolling through our feeds, we are using selective attention: the process of focusing on one thing while ignoring others. Our selective attention can be overridden when a stimulus causes a shift of attention like a ringing phone or a flashing screen. This phenomenon is attentional capture and it has the power to become the focus of our attention, even without effort. For example, if a person’s name is shouted, they likely would hear it regardless of what they were originally focusing on, causing a disruption of attention. Social media does this to us through notifications or messages, and posts seek to maximize attentional capture. Experience may be virtual, yet it can be just as stimulating as something real.
Edgar Adrian’s research determined that the magnitude of experience is related to the rate of nerve firing, establishing how nerve impulses represent the intensity of a stimulus by relating high nerve firing to greater pressure (Goldstein, 2019). The rate of nerve firing is the number of action potentials that form cognitive processes. Perception is what directs the formation of these routes, serving as a filter to eliminate unnecessary stimuli. Visual stimuli are processed by the occipital lobe, which then gets transferred to our temporal lobe to recognize and break down faces and language. Auditory stimuli register in the temporal lobe where we automatically process sentence structure to provide a mental representation of language. The prefrontal cortex is the primary area for higher process functioning, which we use for judgment, self-regulation, and social skills. The human experience differs due to the subjectivity of perception, which creates variation amongst individuals.
Perception of the content posted on social media can have many perspectives due to the difference in experiences. From our perception, our brain processes the stimuli we receive and is stored in our working memory. Working memory is a limited-capacity system for storage where we can manipulate the information to store it in our Long Term Memory (LTM). In our LTM storage is virtually unlimited, and holds semantic and episodic memories. Semantic memories are related to general knowledge that we acquire, while episodic memories form from personal experiences. Episodic memory varies from person to person, and this allows for certain stimuli to be prioritized in the attentional process. While one person may focus on one thing, a different perspective might see it in a completely different manner. Since memory and experience vary, cognitive processes will also vary.
Cognitive processes develop multidimensionally, meaning that simple experiences involve combinations of different functions that activate many areas of the brain at once. Neuron chains pass signals down a line, which is all part of a cognitive process. The signal can be strengthened and weakened depending on the frequency of its use. By watching videos or looking at pictures, it will create multiple routes of activation, due to the complexity of the stimuli. For example, while viewing a tik-tok dance video, seeing the individual or group of people dance, hearing the music, or remembering familiar people are some of the multiple routes that activate the initial memory of the video.
Perception occurs automatically, but mental imaging requires some effort. The experiment conducted by Deborah Chalmers demonstrated that mental imagery is harder to manipulate than perceptual images (Goldstein, 2019). The ambiguous image could be perceived as either a duck or a rabbit, however, upon the participant’s formation of a mental image, they were unable to flip their perception to the other image. If someone using social media were to be presented an ambiguous video or photo, it would be reasonable to assume that our mental image or understanding of what is acceptable is also subjective. Once this image is formed, it may be hard to change the already established opinion. In the process of memory formation, encoding is assisted by forming connections with other information. The access of videos through the internet may condition behaviors without needing to experience it personally. It is important to understand how to communicate with each other online, for there are many ambiguous posts, leaving a possibility of miscommunication.
Language is a system of sounds and symbols that we use to communicate. An understanding of the system allows us to form patterns that express our feelings, thoughts, or ideas in a way that can be understood by others. Humans are social creatures, and language is a necessity for functioning within society. A study investigated language use by deaf children, who were not exposed to people communicating verbally or sign language. Despite the lack of language experience, the children formed their version of sign language (Goldin-Meadow, 1982). All humans with normal capacities develop a language and learn to abide by its complex rules (Goldstein, 2019).
Online communication via text, email, or instant messaging has its language. There are unspoken norms, slangs, and meanings that follow the principles of a language. Some examples of this online language are the use of emoticons to express emotion, texting slang (LOL- laugh out loud), or the sharing of memes. Memes are essentially relatable elements of a culture that are spread through social networks, usually in the form of behaviors, jokes, or ideologies. Large social media influencers typically have tens of thousands of followers and some pages even have millions of followers. The use of online communication allows for a larger social network, making it easy to spread common opinions, memes, or ideas. This is a large part of modern culture and can influence trends.
While scrolling through social media may seem like a mindless behavior, it still forms cognitive processes that can have potentially negative effects. To prevent or counter these effects, the practice of mindfulness will help social media users to distinguish between what content should be viewed. Mindfulness practice focuses on being consciously present while considering emotional and logical aspects that can help an individual fight the struggle of attentional capture. Examples of mindfulness practices are variations of breathing techniques and meditation, which can help reduce anxiety or depression. This practice focuses on becoming consciously aware of our feelings and thoughts and can help us process negative emotions. This practice can help us to counter the negative effects of social media
Social media is known to hold many unrealistic standards and norms, surrounding beauty, achievement, and abilities. If these trends, norms, and characteristics are deemed as unachievable or unrealistic, it can lead to low satisfaction with self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-worth. Thus, it is important to mindfully choose what we subject ourselves to during social media use, for it will affect our interpersonal relationships through socialization.
Social interactions can unconsciously take a psychological toll that potentially has physical effects. In a society where communication is essential to work and live with others, it is important to understand the psychological aspects of socialization. Humans are social by nature and interaction influences behavior and norms. When faced with conflict, we adapt and attempt to fix the problem by the most apparent solution. This can lead to maladaptive thinking that projects into behavior. In an attempt to fix social conflicts, there needs to be an understanding of the psychological thought processes that contribute to behavior. Since thought processes are subjective, establishing a healthy mindset would have benefits in our day to day interactions with others. Sometimes our problems seem ambiguous due to personal bias and experience, and an outside perspective can offer an unseen solution. A wise intervention is a method to alter thought processes to remove the parts that prevent us from flourishing (Walton, 2014).
Interventions are different for each participant, and every intervention must be adapted to best fit the individual (Walton, 2014). This means the target process of each person will vary, as will the setting of the intervention. Its effectiveness will vary depending on if the person alters the process. If they change the recursive process, then it is expected that they should see an effect on their social relationships. The social network intervention led to a higher rate of anti-prejudicial attitudes, and participants were more likely to stand up for others. The theory behind social networking is that the idea spreads through the interaction of others, and friends and acquaintances were also more likely to sign a gay rights petition (Walton, 2014). This relates to our topic of social media because it is a virtual form of networking. Common ideologies are easily spread and are accessible to large groups of people.
The influence of social media is powerful, even when we don’t think we are actively paying attention. We thrive on social interaction, which is where we use language to convey emotion, ideas, and opinions. In the use of social media, freedom of perception is potentially harmful to the impressionable population. Due to the subjectivity of our perception, it is extremely important to guide our attention towards conscious usage. The main concern is with the content which we are exposed to and share, for it creates underlying cognitive processes that affect social interactions. Through the advocacy of mindfulness using the social network intervention, a group of social media influencers could use their influence to aid in our well-being through the correction of recursive processes. The correction of these processes will affect social relationships. In understanding the cognitive aspects of how our brain works, nothing is truly mindless. Through mindfulness practices, we can consciously filter what we subject ourselves to, minimizing the effects of attentional capture. We can’t control our attention all of the time, but we can control what we choose to surround ourselves with, protecting ourselves and others.
Goldstein, E.B. (2019). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience 5E. Cengage (3-65)
Goldin-Meadow, S. (1982) Gesture’s Role in Creating and Learning Language. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from DOI: 10.4074/S0013754510003034
Walton, G. M., (2014) The New Science of Wise Psychological Interventions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23. DOI: 10.1177/0963721413512856