In today’s news, we look at why experts warn that little is known about how social media users are affected by the rapid expansion and the “TikTok-ification” of the internet as a whole, which is raising concerns about how social media affects mental health and behaviors. Also, a recent survey of students revealed a significant degree of interest in being required to spend some time with a cat to unwind. Students who possessed one of the “Big Five” emotional personality traits found cat support to be particularly desirable.
How TikTok affects mental health
TikTok has changed the social media scene since its introduction, garnering more than 1 billion users and inspiring competitors to copy its features.
Experts warn that the exponential growth and ‘TikTok-ification’ of the internet on social media users is little understood, heightening concerns about social media’s impact on our behaviors and mental health.
“It’s humiliating that we know so little about TikTok and its impacts,” remarked a Berlin researcher. “Research typically lags behind industry, and this is a problem.”
A newspaper photo with the TikTok logo superimposed.
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TikTok’s popularity among young people makes it more important to study how it affects them, researchers say. Gen Z prefers TikTok to other social media, with 6 in 10 teens everyday users. 67% of US youths have used TikTok, and 16% use it “very constantly.”
“We owe us to ourselves and the users of these platforms to understand how we are transformed by the devices we use and how we use them,” said Boston Children’s hospital doctor Michael Rich.
“We need more information to help young people use them intelligently – or not at all.”
Long-standing concerns about social media’s mental health effects have escalated in recent years. In 2021, Frances Haugen released internal Instagram data showing the app’s negative mental health effects on teens, including a spike in eating disorders among teen girls. This triggered calls for stricter regulation.
TikTok provides comparable hazardous content, and experts say its unique features present risks.
Internal docs leaked in 2021 showed TikTok prioritizes minutes and hours of view time above clicks and interaction. The organization has installed a unique algorithm and landing page to make the transition from a chronological to an algorithmic feed.
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Studies reveal that discarding chronological feeds in favor of suggested items leads to more extreme viewpoints. In 2021, a report found that YouTube’s algorithm recommended 70% of extreme content. It encourages users to share feed-worthy content.
TikTok’s algorithm has caused significant problems in recent years. The “Benadryl challenge,” in which participants took a lot of antihistamines to hallucinate, killed at least one person. New lawsuit says “blackout challenge” killed six females.
“TikTok is uniquely performative,” stated the pediatrician. This leads to fascinating content and unhealthy attention-seeking.
Marc Faddoul, co-director of Tracking Exposed, a digital rights organization researching TikTok’s algorithm, stated TikTok is “faster than any other platform at recognizing interest.” The app’s For You Page seems to know its users’ wishes and interests so well it’s spawned memes and articles like The TikTok Algorithm Knew My Sexuality Better Than I Did and Why is My TikTok For You Page All Lesbians?
Researchers are still analyzing what this uncanny customizing means for consumers, especially with mental illness and other delicate topics.
“The app gives a continuous stream of emotional nudges that can be hard to notice,” Faddoul added. Hours of daily use can have a major influence on mental health.
Users have reported being diagnosed with ADHD after watching videos regarding their symptoms. The #ADHD hashtag has increased awareness of the issue, but experts warn of unexpected negative effects, including medical misinformation, because the platform enables advertising from for-profit mental health startups like Cerebral.
TikTok declined to comment on accusations about health misinformation and self-diagnosis. It declined to comment on its connection with mental health startup Cerebral or its medical advertising policies.
Researchers fear the algorithm may repeat inequities that raise minority mental health concerns. In 2019, TikTok admits to filtering videos from disabled, overweight, and LGBTQ+ users in a misguided attempt to crack down on bullying.
Internet scholar Chelsea Peterson-Salahuddin says people of color on TikTok must continuously think about algorithm surveillance. It’s mentally and emotionally draining to expect marginalized individuals to continuously monitor themselves.
It replaces socializing.
Researchers think the Covid-19 pandemic shows the platform’s impact on youthful users. When Covid-19 hit, TikTok’s use soared.
Young people posted on the app about how the pandemic affected them. Yim Register, a mental health and social media researcher, said young users are using the app to interact during a sensitive time.
“The pandemic’s biggest consequence is uncertainty,” Register said. “Under ambiguity, our brains want to eliminate uncertainty and make sense of the world.” We use social media to anticipate the future.
Register said ethos contributed to TikTok’s “platform spirit,” a term established by scholar Michael Ann Devito to describe an app’s content and communication.
Register stated TikTok is about posting loudly about private and intense stuff. “Vulnerability is encouraged to meet this spirit.”
This has led to viral videos with a sarcastic, ironic tone that relate sad personal stories. One video with 3.5 million views shows a person dancing to uplifting music and lights and saying, “Things people on the internet have said to me since my sister died of addiction.” Another video with the same music and dancing has the title, “Things my ex-boyfriend said while I cradled my lifeless infants.”
Already, the app’s increased personalization has drawn backlash. In a viral video, a user says, “I genuinely believe people will regret trauma dumping on TikTok years from now” “Why do individuals expose their darkest secrets on TikTok?”
These videos can offer support and a creative way to deal with sorrow, but they can also cause more anguish, say experts.
TikTok is about posting loudly about intimate and intense topics. In this spirit, people are encouraged to be vulnerable.
Mental health researcher Yim Register
“Disclosing abuse or mental health difficulties can be distressing and dangerous for many people,” added Rich. “In clinical work, we have a safety net if a disclosure occurs. Social media lacks this.
TikTok’s anonymous character and unique feed increase the risks, researchers believe. On TikTok, unlike apps like Facebook, most of the people who see a user’s videos are strangers.
“Because of TikTok’s vast user base and algorithm, videos can grow quickly, and not everyone is prepared for that,” Register added. Going viral has implications.
Commenters on viral TikToks often demand more engagement, saying “story time?” to encourage the original uploader to elaborate. Register said situations like these have led to calls for improved user protections.
“Most computing isn’t trauma-informed, and social media can worsen trauma,” Register added. “When I look at social media, I wonder how its design exacerbates mental health difficulties.”
TikTok introduced “kindness” capabilities in March 2021 to help users filter spam and nasty comments. It included a pop-up window asking users to “reconsider” potentially prohibited comments.
Tara Wadhwa, director of US policy at TikTok, said, “We want to encourage a pleasant environment where people support each other.”
TikTok’s opaque algorithm is being deciphered. In August, Chinese officials compelled TikTok to offer up its algorithms for examination, and the business allowed Oracle to evaluate its content moderation methods. Rich said more transparency was needed.
“Legislators and these firms must invest more in understanding this interface,” he said.
“We need more information to help young people use them intelligently – or not at all.”
Highly emotional people may prefer cats to dogs to relieve stress
Some colleges offer animal-interaction events to reduce student stress. 86% of these incidents involve dogs. Students want to relax with cats, according to a recent survey.
Big Five emotionality pupils are fascinated in cat visits, a study indicated.
Anthrozöös publishes the study.
Washington State University professor and study co-author Patricia Pendry told Medical News Today:
“The term ’emotionality’ refers to how strongly people react emotionally to a stimuli and how they behave as a result. High emotionality means you react intensely to feelings or experiences.
While our study didn’t analyze underlying mechanisms, we assume that emotionality reflects a state of mind that permits people to respond strongly — even passionately — to cats’ subtle messages.
Researchers surveyed 1,438 students at 19 Flemish schools, five of which were universities and the rest colleges. 905 were students and 533 were faculty or staff.
Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach, who was not involved in the study, told MNT:
In a pilot trial my colleagues and I conducted on ESAs, people with dogs and cats had a statistically significant decrease in depression.
People with cats had lower depression scores, according to Dr. Hoy-Gerlach.
This study shows the therapeutic benefits of cat companionship. More humans could benefit from cat-assisted intervention if species-specific standards were updated for cats’ needs and welfare. – Janet Hoy-Gerlach
Dr. Dennis Turner of the Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Switzerland told MNT:
“I’m not in favor of a campus cat-visitation program as recommended here.” This, unlike local cats who visit campus.”
Even for dog visiting programs, the latest international trend is to provide animals ‘choice and consent’ Even though a cat can be trained to travel in a box or on a leash, Dr. Turner questions its decision and permission.
Dr. Turner noted that persons doing stress reduction programs and animal-assisted visits may not know the signals of distress in cats, “which can be highly distinctive and variable.”
“A cat making therapy visits with humans must be sociable, comfortable with new people, and alright with travel,” stated Dr. Hoy-Gerlach. “An ESA cat could be a ‘homebody’ who is loving to their own person/family, but not with new individuals.”
“Just as with trained dogs, this is an ethical dilemma. International organizations on human-animal relations (IAHAIO) and AAI (ISAAT) indicate that there should be no negative effects for companion animals engaging in such activities, and that the animal’s normal behavior and requirements must be respected at all times. – Dr. Dennis Turner
The idea of aloof cats may be due to behavioral learning. A Netflix documentary explores this idea, said Dr. Hoy-Gerlach.
“Cats raised with people and socialized can offer affection, comfort, and companionship,” she said.
High-emotional folks with sensitive nerve systems could benefit from this. The warmth of a cat’s body, the vibration of a purr, and the texture of the cat’s hair are all sensory inputs that can help us stay grounded when we’re concerned. – Janet Hoy-Gerlach
Dr. Hoy-Gerlach said dogs may also provide this assistance, but “cats’ smaller size and lower care needs” may appeal to certain individuals as companions.
Choosing a support animal
Dr. Pendry said choosing the proper cat was key to developing a supportive relationship.
“[O]ne that appreciates human interaction and behaves to show that joy through continuing participation” is excellent, she said.
Connection is vital, says Dr. Hoy-Gerlach.
Having a support animal involves a reciprocal, mutual relationship from which one gains comfort and biological, psychological, social, and emotional benefits. Animals should benefit, too!”
Summary of today’s mental health news
Overall, a Berlin researcher remarked, “It’s humiliating that we know so little about TikTok and its impacts,”. The dearth of understanding of how TikTok affects its users is particularly troubling, experts say, considering the app’s popularity among young people. Gen Z prefers TikTok to other social media, with 6 in 10 teens everyday users. 67% of US youths have used TikTok, and 16% use it “very constantly.” “We need more information to help young people use them intelligently – or not at all.”
Additionally, a new survey indicates that students want to relax with cats. The study indicated that Big Five students are interested in cat visits. Such support could be especially helpful for highly emotional people with sensitive nerve systems. The warmth of a cat’s body, the vibration of a purr, and the texture of the cat’s hair can help us “ground,” or stay in the present moment, when we are disturbed says Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach. She also adds that dogs may also provide this type of assistance, but “cats’ smaller size and lower care needs” may appeal to certain individuals as companions.