How YouTube, Instagram and Facebook Impact your Health

Suraj Nair ✉

The rapid-fire nature of short-form videos, particularly YouTube shorts, Instagram reels and Facebook videos with their quick cuts and fleeting images, can be particularly damaging to our ability to focus and concentrate. The constant barrage of new content can lead to a phenomenon known as "continuous partial attention," where we are constantly distracted and unable to fully engage with any one thing.

Reprsentative picture

Moreover, the reliance on bite-sized content can also lead to a decline in our ability to process and analyze more complex information. Short-form videos often prioritize simplicity and brevity over depth and nuance, which can lead to a superficial understanding of the world around us.
As we continue to consume more and more short-form videos, we must take steps to mitigate the potential negative effects on our thinking abilities. This may include setting limits on our screen time, seeking out more in-depth content, and engaging in activities that promote critical thinking and focus.

Diminishing Our Mental Capacity

A groundbreaking study by Chiossi et al. (2023) reveals that engaging with short-form video platforms like TikTok significantly impairs users' prospective memory, and the ability to remember and execute planned actions. This degradation in cognitive function is attributed to the rapid context-switching demanded by these platforms, a finding that highlights the need for media technology designers to reconsider the format of content feeds to safeguard users' memory and well-being.

The Lure of Addiction

The addictive nature of short-form videos and their impact on attention spans is another area of concern. Chen et al. (2022) found that addiction to these videos leads to increased distractibility and diminished attentional concentration, marking a worrying trend for our ability to focus in an ever-distracting digital world. This insight calls for a balanced approach to consumption and the development of healthier engagement habits with digital content.

Visual Memory at Risk

Zheng (2022) further illustrates the negative impact of habitual short video viewing on visual short-term memory, emphasizing the cognitive price of our entertainment choices. This impairment in quickly memorizing and responding to visual patterns suggests that our brains may be paying for the fleeting pleasure of video consumption with lasting deficits in memory function.

A Mixed Bag of Cognitive Enhancement

While the digital age offers unparalleled access to interactive media, not all content is created equal in its cognitive benefits. Research by Huang et al. (2017) indicates that the cognitive enhancements associated with video gaming are genre-dependent, with limited overall benefits. This nuanced finding encourages consumers to be selective about their digital engagements, prioritizing content that promotes mental agility and learning.

Role of Personality

The connection between short-form video addiction, diminished attentional control, and academic procrastination, as detailed by Xie et al. (2023), adds another layer to the conversation. This dynamic suggests that personal traits, such as boredom proneness, play a crucial role in mediating these effects, pointing to the importance of understanding individual differences in digital media consumption and its cognitive consequences.

In short, these studies remind us that we need to be careful and thoughtful about how much we watch. Short videos are really fun and can grab our attention, but they also have effects on our brains that we need to think about. Everyone, including those who watch these videos, teachers, and the people who make these platforms, should pay attention to this. We need to really think about how much time we spend watching these videos to make sure it's not too much. It's important to keep our watching habits healthy for our brains and our overall happiness.

-The author is a clinical psychiatrist.

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  1. Chiossi, F., Haliburton, L., Ou, C., Butz, A., & Schmidt, A. (2023). Short-Form Videos Degrade Our Capacity to Retain Intentions: Effect of Context Switching On Prospective Memory. Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
  2. Chen, Y., Li, M., Guo, F., & Wang, X. (2022). The effect of short-form video addiction on users’ attention. Behaviour & Information Technology, 42, 2893 - 2910.
  3. Zheng, M. (2022). Influence of Short Video Watching Behaviors on Visual Short-Term Memory. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research.
  4. Huang, V., Young, M., & Fiocco, A. (2017). The Association Between Video Game Play and Cognitive Function: Does Gaming Platform Matter? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 20(11), 689-694.
  5. Xie, J., Xu, X., Zhang, Y., Tan, Y., Wu, D., Shi, M., & Huang, H. (2023). The effect of short-form video addiction on undergraduates’ academic procrastination: a moderated mediation model. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.

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