Dubai: An estimated 4.9 billion people today use social media, a Forbes report revealed. The Forbes report also found that on average a person spends 145 minutes (nearly 2.5 hours) on social media every day.
While much of the social media use may be to connect with real-life friends and acquaintances or to deal with work-related tasks or other personal events, a lot of it is mindless scrolling with the most popular medium being short-form videos.
While there is a positive impact in several areas, social media use has a proven negative effect on mental health, especially for adolescents and young adults. And ‘trends’ or ‘hacks’ are a big part of the problem, especially when they’re not backed by science, medical advice or logic affecting mental or physical health.
For instance, a recent trend or hack is sticking one’s mouth shut with face tape for ‘better sleep’. The idea is that the ‘hack’ will stop snoring and thereby increase the quality of sleep. This, along with other sleep hacks, were deemed unnecessary and even dangerous by sleep specialists.
However, millions are hopping on to the trend – and several others – despite this. Why? We asked experts.
Dr Paul E. Croarkin from Mayo Clinic opined that some of these trending videos are so convincing that they can actually override logical thinking.
He said, “How we communicate has changed drastically over the past 10-20 years and will continue to change in upcoming years. Social media has become an important medium for connectedness and information. This form of digital communication can facilitate powerful communications that in some cases are convincing much the way any marketing would be as opposed to medical or scientific evidence.
“This type of communication also accesses emotional areas of our brain. These brain areas communicate quickly, out of our awareness and can override logical thinking. In general, we are all accessing more information and communication on a daily basis than ever before. This can make it difficult to stop and consider facts, logic and scientific evidence.”
DANGEROUS TRENDS THAT WENT VIRAL
- Tide Pod Challenge which dared people to eat laundry detergent pods
- Cinnamon Challenge which challenged followers to swallow spoonfulls of cinnamon within 60 seconds without drinking water
- Fire Challenge where people were dousing themselves in flammable liquids before setting themselves on fire
- Blackout Challenge, where kids would hold their breath until they blacked out
- Salt and Ice Challenge where people would put salt on their arms and then use ice on top of it - causing burn-like injuries from the resultant chemical reaction
The need for connection
It could also be the need to feel ‘connected’, according to Dr Arfa Banu, Clinical Psychologist at Aster Clinic.
She said, “Social media ads or trends are very quick to influence people’s mind, there are few things that are responsible: firstly the reach of social media is very vast and quick, within few hours anything can get trending or viral and psychologically people have the tendency to view the viral reel\ad\ video just to feel connected to the discussions around. Now once you watch it and see the popularity or the number of followers or views the ad is gaining, you also want to give a try to it, medical evidence or logic takes a back seat in that case.
This was reiterated by Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and MD at The LightHouse Arabia who attributes Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and the need to conform to this tendency of following trends blindly.
She said, “Human beings are susceptible to a phenomenon called Groupthink. This is when they can make irrational decisions with the urge to conform to what the group is doing. In this case the ‘group’ is everyone on social media. This coupled with the fact that their favourite influencer or their group engaging in some activity they will be more motivated to engage in that behaviour because they have FOMO fear of being left behind because everyone seems to be doing it and sharing their experience.”
Not just youngsters
Dr Saliha commented. “People also want quick, easy answers to complex problems and the trends that are not based on medical science or logic have that appeal.
“This is not just a ‘younger generation’ phenomenon but actually a human desire to want to believe that complicated issues have simple solutions, because it makes us feel more in control and less anxious.”
“On the flip side, those who are sharing their experience and spreading their trends is also because that of the Dunning-Kruger effect which is a cognitive bias where people with low ability at a task actually overestimate their ability. This can result in people sharing medical or scientific content without truly understanding the issue.”
Why are youngsters more susceptible?
Mayo Clinic’s Dr Paul said, “In general, younger people may spend more time on social media and with other digital technologies. This form of social connectedness is important to younger adults. Adolescents and young adults also are undergoing brain and personality changes that can be impacted by negative communications or content.
“For example, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps with logic and thinking things over. For younger people, other emotional parts of the brain such as the amygdala and hippocampus are more active and accessible.”
Dr Saliha added, “Typically young people who have not formed a firmer sense of who they are and what they believe, and amongst those young people who engage in high social media use, or those who get bored easily and seek novel experiences would be more susceptible to phenomena’s like FOMO.
“This type of person also has high need for social approval or gets influenced by their favorite celebrity more easily.”
How to help children make better decisions?
All the experts concur that quality time with the family is the answer. It is also important to determine if parents’ interaction with social media is affecting how children are engaging with content.
Dr Paul commented, “It is important to create time and space for quality family communication and interactive discussions about these concerns. Be kind to yourself as a parent as this is very challenging, but also develop an awareness and attention to your own behaviour with social media and technology.”
Being proactive to help youngsters determine the authenticity of content is also important. Dr Saliha said, “Teach them how to think critically about the content they engage with and also about who they follow on social media.”
As for adults. Dr Saliha recommends checking information with your own doctors to verify before attempting to follow a trend blindly.
Finally, how dangerous is taping?
There is not enough research to show the full extent of how dangerous mouth taping is. It could lead to issues especially if you have a nasal blockage or if you have major obstructive sleep apnea, experts told Gulf News
Dr Favas Thaivalappil, Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine Consultant, Head of Sleep Center, Healthpoint said, “You may have breathing difficulties [while taping], for example if you have an allergy and have a nasal blockage.
"It may also affect your oral hygiene, and there's no scientific evidence to say that this actually helps.”
Dr Sunil Vyas, Pulmonology (Specialist), Aster Hospital added, “While taping the mouth may reduce or prevent snoring in some cases, it is essential to approach this trend with caution. Snoring can be caused by various factors, such as nasal congestion, sleep position, or sleep apnea, which is a serious sleep disorder.
“Taping the mouth may worsen breathing difficulties or lead to other complications, especially for individuals with underlying respiratory conditions. It is advisable to consult a healthcare professional before considering this method to address snoring.”
The lack of proven research was reiterated by Dr Vicente Mera – Head of Internal Medicine and Anti-Ageing, Anti-Tobacco and Sleep Medicine at SHA Wellness Clinic
“It has not yet been examined if or how mouth taping impacts snoring in people who do not have obstructive sleep apnea. As a result, more research is needed to say with certainty whether mouth taping can effectively treat snoring due to other causes.”