The Social Dilemma

Evolutionary changes have made human beings innate social creatures that form the basis of our families, communities, governments, and even our vast global economy. We are hardwired to be in the company of people, especially that of friends and family, talking about the minutiae of our lives, from dinner to work and this companionship we […]

Evolutionary changes have made human beings innate social creatures that form the basis of our families, communities, governments, and even our vast global economy. We are hardwired to be in the company of people, especially that of friends and family, talking about the minutiae of our lives, from dinner to work and this companionship we share with others helps us thrive in life ensuring happiness and also strengthening our mental health. Being socially connected aids in easing stress, anxiety, and depression but the sudden spurt of digital social media-induced life has had a negative impact on mental health of people, exacerbating several severe mental health problems that include anxiety and depression. While social media has its benefits, it can never be a replacement for real-world human connection as in-person contact is responsible for triggering hormones that make you feel happier, healthier, and more peaceful. [1]

The very outermost layer of the human brain, the neocortex, is where all the action is and when you compare the neocortex in human beings to the neocortex in animals (monkeys, gorillas, etc.) you will find that the human neocortex is significantly bigger than that of any other primate, meaning, our brains have evolved to deliver a social capacity. [2]

It is our capacity for cooperation which is primarily responsible for the survival of our species as human beings are comparatively weaker than many predatory species. With evolution the urge to communicate lead us to adapt technology to communicate effectively and to and with a larger audience. The printing press made its debut in Europe in the year 1440 to create copies of books at an affordable price, and with the onset of the printing revolution, printing didn’t necessarily stick to sharing knowledge, it allowed people to communicate with a wide range of people in a simpler way. Instead of roaming around a village or a town discussing an issue or an idea with everyone, one could leave a printed sheet on a church doorstep, or on the wall of something and allow people to interact with the situation quickly and seamlessly. Similarly, this evolution moved on from the telegraph to telephone, and from there to e-mail, and now we found ourselves immersed in a social media influenced network. Over the years, although the medium and technology has changed, disruptions have revolved around one simple idea, communication, and it’s what drives us forward. [2]

While social media has been in existence in different forms for more than a decade now, it’s influences and impact on the brain is continuously being studied and multiples studies have shown that social media use has been associated with increased risk for both depression and anxiety among young adults. Research has also shown that increased social media consumption may lead to negative online experiences, fewer in-person social interactions, and decreased ability to sustain attention. [1]

People tend to talk about their lives around 30-40% of the time in person but whereas on social media people talk about themselves 80% of the time [10]. The use of social media activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, ‘a feel good’ chemical linked to pleasurable activities, and social media platforms are designed to be addictive, and repeated use is associated with numerous mental and physical ailments. The idea that a potential reward in the future, in terms of more likes for a post, who will ‘like’ a picture, and when the picture will receive likes act as a catalyst in driving traffic and engagement in social media platforms. Individuals use social media for different purposes, and for some, boosting self-esteem, and feeling a sense of belonging in the hope of positive feedback or experience forces people to constantly check these platforms. However, the risks associated with these potential rewards are often overlooked or worse, completely dismissed. When reviewing others’ social activity, people inadvertently make comparisons to their lives, and their standing in a social setup. Why am I not as successful? Why did I not get as many interactions as the other person? By searching for validation in situations where it isn’t even remotely needed, individuals are putting themselves through a period of prolonged stress, which often questions their accomplishments, connections and their standing in life. Repeated interactions with such situations leads to envy and dissatisfaction. Validation and social interaction through the internet have slowly replaced meaningful connections that one might otherwise make in real life. [3] 

Social Media Addiction Cycle [7]


A recent documentary by Netflix titled The Social Dilemma discusses the impact of social media on human brains. Studies have revealed that social media has led to child suicide rates increase by up to 150% in the US [6]. Eight graders who spent an average of 0 hours or more on social media per week are more likely to report being unhappy as compared to those who spend significantly less time [7]. For adults, spending more than 3 hours a day on social media puts them at a higher risk for mental health problems [8]. About 13% of kids aged 12-17 report depression while 32% report anxiety, and 25% of kids aged 18 to 25 report mental illness [8]. It must be noted that these age groups report higher usage of social media than any other age group. 59% of US teens experienced cyberbullying or online harassment [9].

Fear of missing out has been around far longer than social media, but the use of sophisticated algorithms in social media platforms has exacerbated feelings that other are having more fun or living better lives than you are. The thought that one is missing out on things is enough to impact self-esteem, trigger anxiety, and worse, drive one’s social media usage to new highs. Fear of missing out also compels individuals to compulsively check their phone every few minutes even if they are physically present in a socially interactive setup, prioritizing social media interaction over real world relationships. [2] [3]

Human beings are hardwired to socially interact through eye-to-eye contact to reduce stress and be mentally healthy. Prioritizing social media interaction increases feelings of loneliness and puts individuals at risk of developing mood disorders. A 2018 study revealed that social media use decreases, disrupts, and delays sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance. Mental health distress can turn anxiety and depression into nausea, headaches, muscle tension, and tremors. [4]

Making matters worse, bullying and hate-speech in social media platforms is of great concern. Individuals, particularly teens, are subject to offensive comments and such experiences may leave lasting emotional scars [3]. People often forget that media posted on platforms may be manipulated and unrealistic and social media instills an unhealthy perspective on appearances, and reality. In the past, teens consumed altered photos of models through magazines, but with the onset of social media, these contents are available one thumb-scroll away at a given time. The thought that everyone needs to look ‘perfect’ has lasting effects on an individual’s mental health, especially that of teens and young adults. [4] In recent years, plastic surgeons have seen an uptick in requests from patients who want to ‘perfect’ according to social media standards. In 2018, a newlywed couple nearly separated after their honeymoon, the reason: the wife spent more time on the trip planning and posting selfies than she spent with her husband [5]. 

While the idea of social media is to keep in touch with other people, the round-the-clock hyper connectivity situation can trigger impulse control problems, affecting concentration and focus, influencing sleep patterns, and making us a slave to our phones. It is crucial to understand that social media platforms have sophisticated algorithms to snare our attention, keep us engaged online, and repeatedly interact with the platform since that’s how they make their money. There are similarities to gambling compulsion, or an addiction to alcohol or drugs, and social media use can create psychological cravings. Every positive engagement through the platforms can trigger the release of dopamine (reward chemical), and so a compulsive habit will become detrimental to other aspects of our lives. [5]

A 2018 study by the University of Pennsylvania revealed that reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day resulted in significant reduction in levels of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, loneliness, insomnia, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). The study has shown that using social media for only 10 minutes per day for three weeks led to lower loneliness and depression [11]. Being mindful of social media usage has beneficial results on one’s mood and focus. Many of us access social media purely out of habit, and so by replacing it with something else, would definitely help in reducing our dependency on social media platforms. It is important to know the motivation before we decide to access our social media profile, and that way we can improve our experience while also reducing the negative effects. [1]


Prepared by Ram

Research And Analysis 

Hibiscus Foundation



1. Robinson, L. (2021, October 07). Social Media and Mental Health. Retrieved from  

2. Dam, R. F. (n.d.). Social Evolution and Why We Need to Communicate. Retrieved from 

3. “The Social Dilemma: Social Media and Your Mental Health.” Here’s How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health | McLean Hospital. February 09, 2021. Accessed November 23, 2021.  

4. “What Does Depression Feel Like?” Medical News Today. Accessed November 23, 2021.  

5. Parker, Maggie. “Honeymoon Hashtag Hell.” The New York Times. June 19, 2019. Accessed November 23, 2021.

6. Clark, Maria. “40 Frightening Social Media and Mental Health Statistics.” Etactics. December 09, 2020. Accessed November 23, 2021.

7. Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic. March 19, 2018. Accessed November 23, 2021. who spend 10,less time to social media.&text=The more time teens spend,to report symptoms of depression.  

8. Kira E. Riehm, MS. “Associations Between Social Media Time and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth.” JAMA Psychiatry. December 01, 2019. Accessed November 23, 2021.

9. Anderson, Monica. “A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. August 14, 2020. Accessed November 23, 2021.  

10. “Social Media Addiction.” Addiction Center. November 22, 2021. Accessed November 23, 2021. a person posts a,perpetuates the social media habit

11. Hunt, Melissa G., Address Correspondence to Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, Search for   More Papers by This Author, Courtney Lipson, Jordyn Young, University of Pennsylvania.Search for More Papers by This Author, Beck A. T., Cohen S., Daly M., Donnelly E., Kalpidou M., Kross E., Lup K., Przybylski A. K., Rosen L. D., Rosenberg M., Russell D., Ryff C., Smith A., Song H., Spielberger C. D., Steers M. N., Tandoc E. C., Tiggemann M., Tromholt M., Twenge J. M., Verduyn P., Melissa Hunt, and Ellie Lisitsa. “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. December 01, 2018. Accessed November 23, 2021.