By: Matthew Rothstein

Studies show that TikTok may have a psychological impact on the brain with attention span and mental health. 

The app currently has over one billion users, and the audience that uses it the most are teens and younger children. Users could possibly invest in videos that are only less than 15-60 seconds long. This includes dances, funny videos, and other varieties of entertainment to consume. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the app has been a source for entertainment while being quarantined at home. While the app may keep users entertained with millions of videos to view, it does however have some psychological impact on the brain. 

TikTok relies on an algorithmic system tailored to a person’s likes which in return will give recommendations to view. This is not only prevalent on TikTok, but also on social media sites such as Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. Recommendations come from a person’s likes, comments on posts and searches. 

Social media relies on an abundance of recycling information and trends, regardless if it’s new or old. Tik-Tok scrolling of videos is also endless for viewers to consume for entertainment.

In 2013, a study called “Accelerating Dynamics of Collective Attention” from the University of Denmark, explains that the top hashtags compared to average hashtags decreases a user’s attention span. The extensive hours of consuming trending hashtags decreases a viewers attention span from 17.5 hours to 11.9 hours. 

Another study in 2019 called “Abundance of information narrows our collective attention span,” explains that social media does have an effect in narrowing attention span. This is due to the constant 24/7 news cycle and abundance of content everyday. This study was conducted with the top fifty hashtags on Twitter.

While it’s fully unknown if this relates to all forms of social media like Facebook and Instagram, however consuming so many short videos for extended periods of time and a flux of constant information can affect the ability to focus. 

The short video format isn’t new. Before TikTok, Vine also was popular with its use of six-second videos. The Vines similar to Tik-Tok uses trends and hashtags (based on people users follow). However, what makes TikTok unique is the “For You Page” which is a constant trend to consume based on a person’s likes, comments, and activity on the site.  

Users may also have trouble watching videos that are ten minutes or more compared to videos that are less than a few minutes, no matter if one is genuinely interested in a video or not. It’s about the abundance of new content to keep a user entertained and less bored. 

According to Healthline.com, having short attention spans can lead to negative impacts to your mental health. These include inability to complete tasks, communication issues, neglecting healthy habits, missing important details, and poor performance in school/work. A lack of patience and attention can also have an impact from shorter attention spans as well. 

Another concern with Tik-Tok is the growing trend of self-diagnosing based on watching videos without getting psychological evaluation from either a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  

One of the biggest pros of using Tik-Tok is that it can bring awareness to certain issues such as mental health. Users can bring awareness not only in an educational but comedic way. It allows the viewers also to be comfortable with talking about certain topics on the site as well. 

Not only with mental health, but also informative information and news around the world in an infotainment way. It can also build conversation with others on certain topics on mental health. 

Another pro with TikTok and mental health is that you can find communities or videos that can help users feel less alone struggling with mental health. Although one should be concerned where people get their information from if the user has reliable information. 

However, one concern is that users may use videos that talk about signs and symptoms of mental health disorders to self-diagnose themselves. Consuming too many videos in relation to specific disorders may feel prevalent in common day life. Users may feel connected to some of the symptoms which in return may feel like he/she has the disorder. 

President Joe Biden during the State of the Union Address says that social media is harming and conducting experiments on children. “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” said Biden. 

In response to the address, TikTok put out a response to improve the messages shared about mental health. “We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users..” said the company. 

Since then, the app has released a well-being guides update to improve the message of spreading mental health awareness for teens. These include organizations to inform and help teens that are dealing with suicide and eating disorders.