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We are losing the ability to analyse reality

Popcorn brain makes us superficial

We are losing the ability to analyse reality Popcorn brain makes us superficial

The other day, scrolling through TikTok just before going to bed, I saw in rapid succession a desperate and painful video in which a girl unknown to me announced she had a miscarriage, a slideshow of cute little animals with hopeful phrases about the future and personal growth overlaid, an angry girl who lucidly dismantled a racist video from another user, a very funny comedy sketch in which during a stand-up show the guy on stage chatted with someone from the audience. Every 20 seconds my mood changed, switching between opposite emotions quickly, one taking over the other and leaving me very little memory of the previous one, with tears streaming down my face one second before throwing my phone and doing something completely different.

What does popcorn brain mean?

Man comes from monkeys. Our brain comes from monkeys. One wonders if and how long we can endure this abnormal amount and never before received stimuli of visual, auditory, emotional, and intellectual nature before completely losing the sense of the world, concentration, and analysis of its components. To describe this phenomenon of continuous "pops" in our brain, numerous but also very brief, an expression coined by researcher and psychologist David Levy in 2011 has been retrieved, namely popcorn brain. We are overstimulated, and we can't take it anymore, so we are changing to adapt to this uncontrollable flow of things being thrown at us like crazy balls. Our rhythms, even of attention, reflection, and thought, are altered, accelerated, they mimic those of notifications that keep lighting up our smartphone screen, giving us no respite, but also making us desperately seek that kind of mental stimulation 24/7.

Experts' words

It seems that our use of social media, the way we switch contents every few seconds, perhaps while meanwhile watching a movie or listening to a podcast, is modifying how our brains process information. And more and more studies are proving it. Psychologist Dannielle Haig explained it like this: "Online platforms and social media use algorithms to provide us with a constant stream of information, notifications, and entertainment. It's all based on our interests and behaviors. This could lead to an excessive stimulation of the brain, specifically of dopamine circuits, which are associated with pleasure and the taste for novelty. When we receive new information, it causes a small release of dopamine, rewarding our brain and encouraging it to continue this cycle of seeking new stimuli." Clear, isn't it?

What are the consequences?

"Over time, this continuous demand for attention and rapid switching between content and activities can lead to a feeling of restlessness, with the brain seeming to bounce around because it struggles to maintain focus on a single activity for an extended period of time," she adds. It's not brain damage, but it's definitely a change. "The neural pathways of the brain are being redirected or adapted to accommodate the demands of our multitasking and the speed we need to process information," Haig explains. "This, over the long term, could lead to a reduction in the brain's ability to engage in deep, focused, sustained attention, skills that are crucial for complex analysis and critical thinking. Although the brain's plasticity allows it to adapt to these new demands, the concern is that these adaptations may come at the expense of our ability to deeply and reflectively engage with any kind of content, with potential repercussions on learning, memory, and emotional regulation."

Loss of concentration ability and social debates

The truth is, we see this every day on social media already. Have you tried to read any comments lately? Or to discuss civilly with someone? We don't go beyond the headlines of articles, beyond the surface of issues. Even when in good faith, people seem to be losing more and more the ability to reason and delve deeper, to address things in a intersectional and nuanced way. It's not just others, it's also us. Our brains are volatile, we can't find the words. There are only factions, viral content, dramatizations for humorous or tragic effect, emotionally strong content that serves to capture us for just a second, making us cry or angry. Everything passes through our brain at the speed of light, and little or nothing remains. As reality becomes complex, our brains get used to never thinking about anything for too long, and this attitude creeps from the phone to reality, translates into everyday life. What could go wrong?

How can we defeat this trend?

Even though we tend to be somewhat victims of popcorn brain, and it doesn't depend solely on us, we can work on our brain. Escape compulsive scrolling, choose screen-free activities that re-acclimate us to calmness and reflection. We can learn to knit, play cards, read a book, challenge ourselves to watch a movie without picking up the phone even once. Protecting ourselves from stimuli is impossible, but we can try to limit them. Not only to avoid popcorn brain, but also to remain anchored in a world that increasingly needs critical thinking.