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10 negative effects of technology on our mental health

March 17, 2023
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Ed Sheeran does not carry a cell phone.

In a podcast aired in 2022, the multi-platinum, award-winning singer and musician revealed, “I don’t carry a phone…I haven’t had a phone since 2015.” Adding that it affected his mental health — especially the “pressure of replying to text messages straight away” — he explained, “I got really, really overwhelmed and sad with the phone. I just spent my whole time in a very low place.” 

So, how does he stay connected in a world where digital technology is in almost every part of our life? The pop superstar reveals that he replies to a few emails on his laptop once every few days and then goes back to living his life. 

While not everyone can live a cell phone-free life like Ed Sheeran, we could perhaps rethink our relationship with technology.  

What if we thought of technology as a personal assistant? An assistant that is available to us to do what we need when we need it. However, we must remember that this assistant could also swap roles with us if we are not careful.  

As historian Christian Lous Lange summarised in his quote: Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master. 

That is because, on the one hand, technology offers us benefits right from better transportation and communication to enhanced medical care and improved quality of life. However, on the other hand, the misuse and abuse of technology can cause serious issues to our health, affecting even those around us. 

In this article, we will look at the impact of technology and social media on mental health. Here are 10 negative effects of technology on our mental health:

1) Leads to addiction issues  

A Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking report estimates that over 6 per cent of Internet users are addicted to it. Experts believe that the number has grown significantly since the pandemic. 

According to the psychological literature, Internet addiction disorder (IAD) or pathological or problematic Internet use is an individual’s inability to control their engagement with the Internet. Related behavioural addiction disorders related to technology include gaming addiction, compulsive viewing of pornography, social media addiction, and online shopping addiction.    

2)   Aggravates psychological disorders

A global Internet user spends nearly 7 hours per day across devices on the Internet, according to a report by GWI. While research shows that excessive Internet use, especially social media, can cause issues such as anxiety and depression, the blue light emitted by the devices, such as mobile phones and computers, that are used to access the Internet is another cause for concern. 

A new study reveals that high exposure to blue light can affect our sensory neurons, causing psychological problems besides obesity and faster ageing. Research shows a possible correlation between excessive screen usage and ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by impulsive behaviour and trouble paying attention.

3) Causes structural brain changes  

Besides triggering psychological disorders, researchers believe that technology can also lead to structural brain changes. Researchers Loh and Kanai found that excessive multitasking between media could lead to a grey matter decrease in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that manages attentional control. 

Another study by a team of researchers from leading institutions, including Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of Manchester, found that excessive use of the Internet can cause changes to specific cognition areas of the brain. These changes could negatively affect our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions. 

4) Lowers Emotional Intelligence  

We are in an age where our facial expressions and feelings are conveyed more through emoticons rather than face-to-face meetings. But is this technology drastically reducing our Emotional Intelligence (EQ)? EQ expert Daniel Goleman describes an emotionally intelligent individual as self-aware, self-regulated, self-motivated, empathetic, and possess social skills. 

Experts say several communication technologies are destroying our empathy. Technology has also given rise to compassion fatigue, a phenomenon in which individuals become indifferent towards tragic events because of the frequency in which they view them. Moreover, a 2014 report in Computers in Human Behavior reveals that digital media decreases social skills in children.   

5) Hinders memory

Can technology negatively affect our memory? According to research by Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner in 2011, individuals that excessively depend on technology could suffer from the Google Effect. Also referred to as digital amnesia, the Google Effect is marked by decreased working and long-term memory. 

Experts believe that people now retain less information because they know they can look it up on Google or other search platforms. This phenomenon is especially a cause for concern because studies show that failing to maximise our cognitive capacities can increase our risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

6) Triggers phobias 

When it comes to the effect of technology on our life, it is not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the constant buzzing of your smartphone. But do you feel extreme nervousness or fear when your phone is shut off, loses its signal, or is not with you for some time? If you are, you could be experiencing a condition called nomophobia

A psychological condition under consideration to be featured in DSM-V, nomophobia, is the fear of being without mobile phone access for a prolonged period of time. Besides nomophobia, technology is also known to trigger other phobias, such as aviophobia, which is the fear of flying, amaxophobia or the fear of driving, FOMO aka the fear of missing out, and even technophobia, which is the fear, avoidance or dislike of technology itself. 

7) Reduces feelings of pleasure

Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that your brain releases when it is expecting a reward. While dopamine is necessary to lead a fulfilling life, too much can cause serious issues. With uninterrupted access to pleasure-inducing technological options, such as gaming and shopping, we now have ready dopamine hits right at our fingertips. 

Researchers believe that with these almost constant inputs, the pleasure centres of our brain can become hyper-stimulated by dopamine. Prolonged overstimulation can make us less responsive or even numb to other regular enjoyable experiences, including having a meal or reading a book. 

8) Lowers self-esteem 

In his book The Antecedents of Self-esteem, personality theorist and researcher Dr Stanley Coppersmith describes self-esteem as the positive or negative evaluation of the self. When it comes to self-esteem, social media is a double-edged sword. While positive feedback increases self-esteem, negative feedback has the reverse effect. 

Social comparison on social media platforms also lowers self-esteem. In a survey of 38,000 people from 18 countries paired with logged activity on the social media platform Facebook, one in five respondents said they recall seeing posts that made them feel worse about themselves. 

9) Triggers social anxiety 

Social comparison and self-esteem result in social anxiety. Research shows that excessive self-consciousness because of social comparison could lead to a feeling of a lack of social skills and thus lead to a fear of social interactions.

Could this explain why, even though the number of social media users is growing by the day, around 33 per cent of adults in the world are experiencing feelings of loneliness? According to a report by researchers Schlenker & Leary in 1982, social anxiety is a state in which a person avoids social interactions and appears inhibited in interactions with other people. 

10) Decreases focus 

Technology also reduces our ability to concentrate. A Microsoft study reveals how the ubiquitous nature of technology reduces our ability to focus for long periods of time. The study, which included EEG brain tests, found the average attention span dropped from 12 to 8 seconds since the year 2000.

So, is modern technology compatible with good physical and mental health? As we know, the effect of technology on our life is both positive and negative. 

Whether we like it or not, technology has and will continue to have an effect on health. If you or someone you know is going through a negative effect of technology on health, reach out to a mental health professional. You can browse our directory of treatment centres across India here.


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