Neuroscience of Instagram

Instagram boasts over 300 million active users, with 70 million photos shared every day; that’s a lot of selfies. But as it turns out, Instagram’s surge and unprecedented success in a sea of failed social media networks (we’re looking at you, Google+), may be more linked to the way the brain works than those #nofilter pictures shared.

The human insatiable appetite for information in the digital world is only growing, so understanding your brain on Instagram can help you understand why you feel the need to check in every five minutes–and how to use that engagement to your advantage.

Shrinking Social Media

If you wanted to assign a generation to each social network, it might look something like this: The Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers are hanging out and sharing pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook. Facebook allows them to reconnect and toggle the flow of information to their news feed so it’s not too overwhelming. Gen Y-ers? You’ll find them on Twitter. Millennials rely on the microblogging site to give them quick-fire information and news to stay in the know while catering to their narcissistic natures. It’s also where they’re most likely to engage with brands and celebrities, which helps them feel heard.

But Gen Z? Those Internet users who are just coming of age in 2015 are on Instagram. In fact, Instagram has the youngest user base of all three social networks, with over 90 percent of their users under the age of 34 and 53 percent between the ages of 18 and 29. The more youthful tone of Instagram isn’t just because Gen Z-ers are self-absorbed or hastag-obsessed: It’s because their brains respond to information differently than the individuals cultivating their farms on Facebook.

Your Brain on Instagram

Where information is so readily available, your brain learns to crave the reward of new content. Whether it’s a post to a favorite forum, a funny tweet, or yes, a picture on Instagram, that reward of something new lights up neurons in the brain and release dopamine, that feel-good neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure.

The rapid pace of a visually stimulating medium such as Instagram multiples the effect of reward in the brain. After all, visual medium is processed 65,000 times faster than written or audio. If, in fact, a picture is worth a thousand words, the brain processes the new information from a delivery system like Instagram, leaving it hungry for more.

It’s similar to an addiction: Your brain exacts pleasure from new content, so you’re always left searching for more to get another high. It’s why you check into your social networking profiles multiple times each day, and why Instagram is so popular with younger demographics. With brains that are hard-wired to accept information at breakneck speed, a visual medium like Instagram fulfills the need for something new.

Applying Instagram’s appeal to eLearning applications should be a no-brainer. While pictures and 15-second videos might not be appropriate for longer-form training, it can become a platform for updates and reminders, as well as a tool for company culture. As social networking follows modern neuroscience, the shrinking of information becomes a factor for eLearning success.