How Social Media Is Affecting Our Behavior

Two Prevalent Examples

You are likely one of the nearly 2.8 billion¹ people in the world who are participating in social media, but what does that really mean for our “real world” lives? Researchers have been examining the effects of social media on people since computer scientists developed the first social networking sites in the 1970’s, including the effects of social media on health and behavior. If you’re interested in the health aspects, specifically mental health, I’d encourage you to check out these 8 Articles On How Social Media May Affect Your Mental Health. If you want to learn more about how social media may be affecting your behavior, keep reading!

Consumer Behavior

For years now, marketers have been taking advantage of consumer consumption of social media. It started with pop-up ads and digital banners on websites. Now, companies can track your internet behavior and use personal information, from your internet browsing preferences to the information you’ve uploaded to social networking sites, to tailor their content to you. That information includes what you click on, what brands you identify with, who you look up to (aka influencers), and who in your social circle is similar to you. Empowered with your information, marketers can build up your trust in their product/brand and target you with quality information that resonates with you. That’s a recipe for influencing your brand loyalty and getting you to buy products²! Does social media only affect consumer behavior? No. It is also making people do things they normally wouldn’t do offline so they can tell people about it online!

Social Media Made Me Do It

Are you familiar with the experiment where a scientist taught dogs to drool every time they heard a bell? Many people know the experiment as Pavlov’s Dogs, and you can read more on it here, but I’ll give you a quick rundown in case you’re not familiar.

A Russian physiologist conducted an experiment using dogs, specifically dog drool, and food that helped us understand conditioning. Google defines conditioning as “the process of training or accustoming a person or animal to behave in a certain way or to accept certain circumstances.” In the case of Pavlov, he conditioned the dogs to drool whenever they heard certain sounds, or received certain stimuli, because they knew they would be fed shortly after being exposed to the sound/stimuli. Well guess what, some people are becoming conditioned to attention from social media!

“All those retweets, likes and favorites give us a little jolt, a little boost that pushes us to keep coming back for more.” –Jenna Wortham, New York Times

Rather than a bell, we are being conditioned to keep participating in social media through positive reinforcement from our friends and strangers. As Wortham noted in her article “Facebook Made Me Do It³,” that is leading some people to post anything that will get them a like or a comment. That is leading typically reasonable people to make risqué posts. Think about prank videos, provocative pictures, edgy comments, etc. People are feeding off social media attention and doing things that they normally wouldn’t do just to get a ‘like’ on social media. People are being conditioned to behave in ways that get attention.

So, what’s the point?

Social media is more powerful than people realize. In participating in social media, we are giving away personal information that others are using to affect our behavior, like our purchasing habits. It is also conditioning some of us to crave attention, causing some people to behave in risqué ways on- and offline.

The research and data into the effects of social media is growing everyday! I’d encourage you to keep these prevalent examples in mind and research other ways social media is affecting users.

In what other ways do you think social media influences people or affects behavior? Join the conversation in the comments!


  1. Statista. (2019) Number of social media users worldwide 2010-2021. [website]. Statista.com. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/
  2. Hajli, M. (2014). A study of the impact of social media on consumers. International Journal of Market Research, 56(3), 387-404. Retrieved from https://purdue-primo-prod.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_sage_s10_2501_IJMR_2014_025&context=PC&vid=PURDUE&search_scope=everything&tab=default_tab&lang=en_US
  3. Wortham, J. (2013, June 13). Facebook Made Me Do It. The New York Times, p. 5. Retrieved from https://purdue-primo-prod.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_gale_ofa334053787&context=PC&vid=PURDUE&search_scope=everything&tab=default_tab&lang=en_US

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