Have you realized how in this day and age; we can’t seem to take our eyes off of our phones? Every second after we upload a new picture on Instagram is spent getting anxious about the number of views and likes we have gotten. We have gotten addicted to the validation and boost in self-esteem that social media gives us. It’s almost like social media is the casino, or gambling of our generation. Why we all feel this way can be explained by the variable-ratio schedule.
The variable-ratio schedule is a reinforcement-based schedule where responses are provided after an unpredictable number of responses are given. It is also a kind of operant conditioning, which is learning with the help of punishments and rewards. Slot machines, video games, and even sales bonuses at some workplaces are some examples of the activities where rewards can be reinforced under this schedule. You may be wondering, how is this connected to social media?
Basically, when we see any form on engagement on our social media, for example, the likes and comments we get on Instagram posts; or retweets and likes on twitter, our brain releases a hormone called dopamine which makes us feel good. Once we share a post, we sometimes get anxious waiting for the likes to come in after exiting the application. In addition to that, for many reasons, there can also be delays in the notifications on our smartphones, which further makes us question, “Oh my god, do I look ugly? Why isn’t anyone liking or commenting on my picture?!”. This is where we can link the variable-ratio schedule to social media because after posting a picture or tweet, we wait in anticipation of any sort of engagement. The likes, comments, and retweets sort of become the “rewards” which make us feel more validated. This is also very similar to slot machines or even drugs, as we get so attuned to the feeling for which we keep going back even after knowing the negative effects that result from these activities.
We live in a world where being on social media has almost become a necessity, however, it is crucial to keep in mind that balance is key in every aspect of our lives. All sorts of information are accessible to us, in fact, it is all right at the tip of our fingers; it is only up to us to decide what we want to do with it and that is what makes all the difference. I wrote this article in hopes that we can be more aware of where we choose to put our attention and focus. Social media should be kept as an outlet to find entertainment or even make a living in some cases; but just like an office job, we need time away from everything we do.
Instead of letting social media control how we feel about ourselves, allowing ourselves to seek validation from external sources, realize that all the magic happens within and that change only happens if you let it.
Cherry, Kendra. “Variable-Ratio Schedules for Creating a High Response Rate.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 7 Oct. 2019, www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-variable-ratio-schedule-2796012.
McSweeney, Kelly, et al. “This Is Your Brain on Instagram: Effects of Social Media on the Brain.” Now. Powered by Northrop Grumman, 17 Mar. 2019, now.northropgrumman.com/this-is-your-brain-on-instagram-effects-of-social-media-on-the-brain.
Globe. “Your Smartphone Is Making You Stupid, Antisocial and Unhealthy. So Why Can't You Put It Down?” The Globe and Mail, 10 Apr. 2018, www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/your-smartphone-is-making-you-stupid/article37511900/.