How short videos affect mental health: scientific evidence

How short videos affect mental health: scientific evidence

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, reporting on the platform’s financial results, among other things, shared plans for further development of the short video format in the application. Rollers 15-60 seconds – one of the most promising types of content. Having appeared on TikTok, they quickly spread to other social networks, crossed their boundaries, went further and are not going to stop. But today, especially among zoomers, problems with attention, concentration, anxiety, and quality of sleep are increasingly noted. And here's how it's connected.

Negative effects on attention and concentration

Research shows that short video platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts can have a significant impact on users' attention and concentration. This is due to the phenomenon of “continuous partial attention”, where a person rushes from one task to another, which leads to a decrease in the ability to focus.

Teenagers who actively use such apps may experience deterioration in their psychological well-being and school performance. One study of Chinese schoolchildren found that so-called addicted users were more likely to experience academic difficulties and were more likely to be victims of bullying. At the same time, moderate users showed results similar to those who do not use short-video platforms at all.

Another study found that the constant switching associated with social media work can negatively impact success in jobs that require memorization and execution based on a plan. That is, if a person went to YouTube to find an important link, but instead got stuck for half an hour on a video with cake decor, that’s it too.

According to residual attention theory, the purpose of a given task is forgotten if that task is interrupted. Such interruptions are especially common when using short videos frequently, as evidenced by research in cognitive psychology.

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Increased anxiety and addiction

Research shows that the endless stream of video content on social media platforms can significantly impact our mental health, increasing anxiety and promoting addiction. According to a meta-analysis, increasing time spent on social media causes increased levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression. And the more time spent on the platform, the stronger the consequences.

Additionally, social media can create addiction through variable reinforcement—like and comment notifications that activate dopamine connections in the brain. In ordinary life, this happens with natural motivation and reward. The hormone dopamine is responsible for the “do it – well done – take a pie from the shelf” mechanism. So, it might seem like by getting a handful of likes for a cat video, we actually did something meaningful. Mechanisms like these make social media interfaces especially compelling, increasing our desire to return to them again and again.

Photo: Bibadash/Shutterstock/Fotodom

Insomnia and decreased sleep quality

Using devices that emit blue light, such as smartphones or tablets, immediately before bed can negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Blue light affects the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates circadian rhythms and promotes sleep. Research shows that exposure to blue light before bed can increase the time it takes to fall asleep, impair sleep quality, and make sleep more shallow.

It is not surprising that after half an hour of watching shorts in bed, instead of wanting to fall asleep, you are tempted to watch a terribly interesting three-hour interview or stand-up show. And further. One more thing. And then: “Oh God, I have to get up in three hours!”

To reduce exposure to blue light, doctors recommend limiting the use of electronic devices an hour or two before bed.

Photo: Bibadash/Shutterstock/Fotodom

Creating unrealistic expectations of yourself

The influence of short TikTok and Shorts videos that portray unrealistic standards of beauty and success can seriously impact the mental health of adults and teenagers. Scientists believe that such content can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s body, age-related changes, relationships with loved ones, career, style, and more. This is especially common among young women. Even a few short videos with “ideal” images can exacerbate self-criticism and worsen mood, increasing the risk of developing depression and eating disorders.

Social media algorithms can also reinforce feelings of “I’m not good enough” by promoting content that emphasizes unattainable standards of living and beauty. As glossy magazines used to do, today bloggers find far-fetched problems, inflate them in videos and offer solutions in the form of selling their information products or services. This can make users feel jealous and dissatisfied with reality, which also contributes to mental problems.

Constantly comparing yourself to others on social media can lead to depression. But just recognizing that the inflated standards portrayed in the video are affecting how we perceive our own lives can help us develop healthier attitudes toward using these platforms.

However, the impact of short videos and social media on mental health is not always negative. For example, social media can foster a sense of community and provide a useful resource for support. But to reduce potential risks, it is important to consciously manage the time we spend on social networks and include activities in our lives that help mental recovery.