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Brain Region May Predict Facebook Addiction

Update Date: Aug 30, 2013 01:16 PM EDT

Does your life revolve around Facebook? A person's Facebook use can be predicted by the level of activity in a reward-related area of the brain, according to researchers.

Researchers looked at the brain activity of 31 participants.  They focused on the activity of the nucleus accumbens, a small but important structure located deep in the center of the brain that is part of the brain's reward circuitry. Researchers looked at this region of the brain because previous studies found that rewards like food, money, sex and gains in reputation are processed in their region. The study looked at Facebook because interactions on the social media website carried out in view of user's friends can affect their reputation.

"As human beings, we evolved to care about our reputation. In today's world, one way we're able to manage our reputation is by using social media websites like Facebook," lead author Dar Meshi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany, said in a news release.

Participants completed the Facebook Intensity Scale to determine how many friends each participant had, how many minutes they each spent on Facebook and general thoughts. Researchers also had participants partake in a video interview where they were told what people though of them and where they expressed what they thought of other participants.  They also played a card game to win money.  During these tasks, researchers recorded participants' brain activity using fMRI scans.

The findings revealed that participants who received positive feedback about themselves produced stronger activation of the nucleus accumbens than when they saw the positive feedback that another person received. Researchers found that the strength of this difference correlated with participants' reported intensity of Facebook use. However, the nucleus accumbens response to monetary reward did not predict Facebook use.

"Our study reveals that the processing of social gains in reputation in the left nucleus accumbens predicts the intensity of Facebook use across individuals," Meshi explained. "These findings expand upon our present knowledge of nucleus accumbens function as it relates to complex human behavior."

"Our findings relating individual social media use to the individual response of the brain's reward system may also be relevant for both educational and clinical research in the future," he said.

Researchers note that the study did not determine if positive social feedback motivates people to interact on social media, or if sustained use of social media changes the way positive social feedback is processed by the brain.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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