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What is TikTok Brain and Do You Have It?

Spending too long scrolling through the For You page?

Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

Everyone is guilty of spending a little too much time on social media. Whether it’s a YouTube rabbithole or doomscrolling through Twitter, sometimes hours will pass before you realize how long you have spent on the platform. TikTok especially has become one of the easiest apps to end up spending hours on. Those 15-second clips are so quick to consume, and endless recommendations are always popping up. If you’ve heard the term “TikTok Brain” you might be wondering what exactly that means. It turns out that the app is perfectly designed to keep you watching and craving those entertaining 15-second clips, and there’s a scientific reason for it.

In 2020, Forbes described TikTok as “digital crack cocaine for your brain” and that description is pretty accurate. Scientifically, the app is so successful at keeping people hooked on it because it acts like a drug. Each time you watch an interesting or funny video, you get a dopamine hit in the pleasure center of the brain.

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that is used by the nervous system to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure, as it signals to the brain that we are feeling something good. Our brains then tell us that we should keep doing a certain activity if we want to keep experiencing this happiness. So, every time you watch a TikTok video, which releases dopamine, your brain signals for you to keep scrolling so you keep getting those pleasurable hits of dopamine. However, brains can have too much dopamine. This is not only linked to mental health disorders but also to addiction.

Credit: Chi Hin Ng / Shutterstock

TikTok Brain isn’t a psychological disorder where your brain depends upon scrolling through TikTok videos to keep working. Instead, it’s better described as a pervasive bad habit. TikTok Brain is the idea that your brain becomes so used to the hit of dopamine, it turns to the app to keep getting it. It can be considered to be an addiction to scrolling through TikTok videos as the brain begins to crave constant dopamine from watching endless TikTok videos.

TikTok is designed to be addictive

Unlike other rival social media platforms, TikTok constantly recommends content. The For You page on the TikTok app is developed in a way that keeps users scrolling from one video to another. TikTok has an incredibly well-designed algorithm. It is personalized to each user, so it only recommends videos related to the content they’ve already engaged with. The algorithm can predict the videos that a user would enjoy and curates this content into a seemingly never-ending playlist. This gives users the convenience of not having to do anything to pick what they want to watch. As users keep on watching video after video, getting more and more dopamine, they become dependent on watching TikTok videos to feel good.

Credit: Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock

The addictive qualities associated with TikTok brain are real. Addiction isn’t just related to drugs; something can be addictive if someone becomes reliant upon it to feel good or improve their mood. Behavioral addictions can be just as dangerous as drugs if left unchecked. According to psychologists researching the effects of having a TikTok addiction, watching TikTok videos for a prolonged period can negatively impact short-term memory, attention, and concentration. 

What to do if you have TikTok Brain?

If you find yourself spending hours on TikTok and are constantly reaching for your phone to check the For You page, you might have TikTok brain. TikTok Brain isn’t hard to overcome but it requires willpower, just as breaking any habit or quitting any addiction does. The first step is to realize you have a problem and recognize that you have to fix it. Finding new ways to get healthy dopamine hits, such as developing a new hobby or getting out of the house for some exercise, or setting up an app to curb the amount of time you spend on TikTok can help break the toxic cycle of TikTok scrolling.

Written By

English student at Queen's University Belfast

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