What is ‘TikTok brain’ and is it real?

Some experts things young people are grappling with “TikTok brain,” a shortened attention span caused by watching short-form video content. 

The Wall Street Journal recently published the article “TikTok Brain Explained: Why Some Kids Seem Hooked on Social Video Feeds.” Millennials grew up with one foot in traditional media, like television and publications, and the other in new media, like the barely-forged internet.

But Gen Z and younger generations spend a lot more time consuming online content from a much younger age. TikTok’s particular formula of short-form videos in rapid succession tailored precisely to people’s interests — might be affecting their brains. 

A study by China’s Zhejiang University examined users’ relationship to Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. It found that while watching a random TikTok video didn’t do much, the personalized videos the algorithm recommends tap into the brain’s reward centers. 

“Brain scans of Chinese college students showed that areas involved in addiction were highly activated in those who watched personalized videos. It also found some people have trouble controlling when to stop watching,” according to the Wall Street Journal

This dopamine rush can make it harder for kids, whose brains aren’t fully-developed, to put TikTok away because it just feels too good to stop. It can also result in training kids’ brains to make it harder to focus on other tasks. If you are conditioned to receive a dopamine hit every time you pay attention to something, when you don’t get it, you’re going to go where your craving can be sated. 

“If kids’ brains become accustomed to constant changes, the brain finds it difficult to adapt to a non-digital activity where things don’t move quite as fast,” Dr. Michael Manos, the clinical director of the Center for Attention and Learning at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, told the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal recommends shortening young people’s screen time with healthier substitutes like free play and exercise. And to also take advantage of TikTok screen time management tools

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