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Social networks turn your brain into 'popcorn', says psychologist

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Breathe, drink water, scroll through social media feeds. Essential actions for human survival. The third is obviously not. But it seems to be. It also appears to be harmless. But “it turns your brain into popcorn”, according to clinical psychologist Daniel Glazer, in an interview with Metro.

For those in a hurry:

  • Clinical psychologist Daniel Glazer describes the phenomenon of “popcorn brain” as the inability to maintain focused attention due to the habit of quickly switching between different stimuli on social media, comparing this state of fragmented attention to popping popcorn;
  • The constant use of smartphones and the habit of scrolling through social media feeds can negatively affect sleep and mental health. It can also cause agitation and anxiety due to continuous exposure to digital stimuli that promote rapid changes in attention, according to Glazer;
  • To combat the effects of “popcorn brain”, Glazer suggests limiting daily technology use, focusing on single tasks without distractions and practicing periods of digital detox to improve attention span and focus;
  • While the radical solution of ditching your smartphone completely isn't viable for most, Glazer advises periodically deleting distracting apps and finding a personal balance in your use of technology.

Calm. “Popcorn brain” is not terminal. It just means that your attention jumps from one thing to another like popcorn kernels in the microwave (or in the pan, for the vintage ones) when heated. Notice how many completely different topics pass through your eyes when scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) feeds for three minutes. That's about it.

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Social networks 'popping' your brains

Young people using cell phones with social media reaction emojis coming out of the devices
Image: Rawpixel/Shutterstock

Modern society is immersed in the use of smartphones and social networks. Therefore, checking feeds almost constantly (sometimes even constantly) has become a very common habit, especially during moments of waiting or before bed. This practice, although it may seem harmless, can negatively affect sleep and mental health, leaving people agitated and anxious, according to Glazer.

The clinical psychologist explained that the “popcorn brain” arises as a result of constant exposure to digital stimuli that encourage a rapid shift of attention. Popular apps, with their addictive designs, variable rewards and microdoses of dopamine, exacerbate this problem by optimizing engagement at the expense of users' well-being, he says.

To combat this effect, Glazer suggests strategies. Among them is the imposition of daily periods without the use of technology, a practice that can help reconfigure the individual's attention and focus capacity. Another recommendation is to practice concentrating on a single task at a time. For example: when answering an email on your cell phone, you should avoid distractions and focus exclusively on that activity.

social media
Image: Viktollio / Shutterstock.com

If these measures aren't enough, Glazer advises periodically deleting apps that are particularly distracting as a way to regain control over your technology use. Another approach – this more radical – would be to abandon the use of smartphones and opt for a disconnected lifestyle. But let's face it: it's not viable or practical. Therefore, it is recommended that everyone find their middle ground.

In short, the psychologist points out that “popcorn brain” is a worrying condition that reflects the challenges posed by the excessive use of technology in contemporary society. Taking conscious measures to limit exposure to digital stimuli can be essential to preserving mental health and sustained attention span. Your brain thanks you. And it doesn't explode.



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