TikTok is under the loop. Photo by Christoph Scholz

Is the TikTok brain a real thing or a hoax?

At first, when I read this headline online in the Wall Street Journal, it became intriguing. However, when I was prompted to pay for the subscription, I passed it up. I was wrong to do that, and I will tell you why.

The Wall Street Journal published the article “TikTok Brain Explained: Why Some Kids Seem Hooked on Social Video Feeds,” which explains in detail how are kids so hooked on this massively popular app.

According to HITC, there is a dopamine rush that is triggered by endless short videos. In other words, it means it is especially harder for younger viewers to switch their focus to slower-moving activities. For instance, keeping the attention span of kids engaged in the classroom can be difficult, since the digital sphere rewards that part of the brain that is constantly stimulated or rewarded.

TikTok video describes the effects of TikTok on your brain.

There is something very peculiar, interesting, and frightening about TikTok. If you think about it, it is the first app that is not US-based and instead Chinese-based. It took over in less than a decade and surpassed in usage the likes of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. All of these platforms have been around for more than ten years, and it's incredible.

The TikTok brain story stems from a Chinese research report

The discovery of how TikTok is so addicting stems from Chinese researchers who examined the effects on college students. As reported by ABC 7, students were given videos they liked and made brain scans to see parts of the brain that were stimulated. The discovery in the parts of the brain associated with addiction definitely showed activity.

The Zhejiang University conducted this study by using Douyin (China’s version of TikTok). Moreover, aside from the stimulation of areas connected to addiction, the study confirmed there is also a rush of dopamine. Consequently, the part effects of the app make it really difficult to focus on other tasks.

The news report goes on to explain, that, unlike adult social media users, kids will have a harder time disconnecting from TikTok. Part of the reason is cognitive and stage of development. So the prefrontal cortex that targets impulse control does not fully mature or develop until the age of 25. It is not hard to assume that a huge part of the usage and number of users on TikTok are kids.

The digital experiences do differ greatly between Millennials and Gen Z. Millennials were exposed to radio, newspapers, and television. Gen Z has grown up immersed in technology and social media. Sure, there is an abundance of information and communities available online. But one of the drawbacks of staying connected to devices means social skills are harder to develop and deal with in face-to-face interactions.

Facebook and TikTok have a parallel history of being an influential platform

Both social media companies have had a similar rise in dictating the trends and cultural moments. Both of them have ushered a new generation of influencers. TikTok has to date many influencers that include Jalaiah Harmon, Bella Poarch, Angry Reactions, Khaby Lame, etc.

But what they both have in common is the manipulation of their users. Based on the study, TikTok has been subject to ongoing problems with user privacy and the data harvested. Does that sound familiar? Facebook, not Meta, is by far the social media company that has the most problems with user data.

Embedded Tweet about TikTok’s brain study.

An old article published on Social Media Today, “Facebook Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself,” brought back this notion of how to predict your personality based on your Likes on Facebook. This analysis was published in 2015, and it expanded on predicting user behavior. That is not farfetched since there was election interference in 2016 in the United States. Prior to that, the Brexit vote. Let’s not forget the Cambridge Analytica scandal, too.

The point I am making here is legislators need to introduce regulations around usage and possibly enforce age limits. There is too much data in the hands of these companies, and it is time to find out just how harmful they are by having independent experts analyze them in context.

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Anthony Carranza

Anthony Carranza

Mission Statement Education: “My purpose is to connect with learners and inspire them! Write about education and TikTok trending topics!