Does Social Media Affect Decision-Making?

Paige Geis Bradshaw

Ah, social media. Don’t we all have a love-hate relationship with it?

I know I do. Just this year, I jumped from posting daily Instagram stories to taking a four-month break from social media altogether. Now, the apps are usually deleted from my phone, and I only hop back on to catch up with old friends or share big news of my own.

There are many reasons I made this move, the biggest being how social media made me feel. I often left the apps feeling inadequate or just plain pressured to buy things I didn’t need. I gradually grew exhausted from being advertised to in a very personal way, which led to a general distaste of social media as a whole.

The more I learned about social media’s impact on our minds, the more confident I was in my choice to step away. Does social media affect decision-making? Let’s find out.

How Social Media Influences Purchase Decisions

Have you ever seen an advertisement on social media and thought to yourself, “That’s weird, I was just talking about that product with a friend the other day”?

You’re not the only one. (And your phone isn’t listening in on your conversations.) It’s the algorithm!

Social media algorithms determine what you see when you use social media, whether you’re on your phone or another device. These algorithms track the content you engage with most to curate a feed you can’t resist. Social media algorithms not only know what you like now, but they predict what you might like in the future.

From healthcare decisions to retail purchases, a recent study reveals that up to 40% of people are influenced by social media when making decisions or seeking advice. While the study showed that younger generations are more likely to turn to social media for answers than older generations, every age group from the Silent Generation to Millennials rely on social media influence to some degree.

That said, the study concluded that more people still rely on friends, family, and word-of-mouth recommendations than social media when making purchase decisions. But, not by a wide margin. Depending on the generation, between 40% and 60% turned to friends and family before social media. (So, it’s about half-and-half.)

Similarities Between Social Media Use and Addiction

“Decision-making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders,” says Dar Meshi, an assistant professor and researcher at Michigan State University. He continues, “They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes.”

As explained in the video below, social media impacts our brains in the same way that drugs, alcohol, and other substances do. The pleasurable “high” felt with many substances is a combination of intense euphoria and surges of dopamine. Dopamine—the feel-good chemical released in your brain after experiencing enjoyment or accomplishment—is released when your social media posts are liked, commented on, and engaged with. But once you’ve reached your threshold, like a drug or alcohol tolerance, you have to do more to achieve that same level of dopamine release.

In this video, Dr. Anna Lembke, Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, explains: “With heavy exposure or use of any highly dopaminergic drug, I need more and more to get the same effect. Over time, I experience less pleasure when I’m not using that drug.”

While it’s still up for debate whether or not social media addiction can be classified as a true addiction, there’s no denying the powerful effect that social media can have on the human brain. Psychologists estimate that up to 10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction, which includes:

  • Uncontrollable urges to use social media
  • Unhealthy concern over social media appearance
  • Excessive time and effort put into social media
  • Avoidance of personal problems through social media use
  • Restlessness when not using social media
  • Inability to work or study due to social media use

“I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals,” says Dar Meshi. He urges, “but there’s also a dark side when people can’t pull themselves away.”

The Dark Side of Social Media Influence

While there’s plenty of positivity to be found on social media, platforms like Facebook and Instagram simply aren’t what they used to be. Between relentless advertisements, political polarization, and algorithms that prioritize revenue-generating business’ posts over your friends’ posts, the dark side of social media influence is becoming clearer than ever.

Here are some of the most dangerous ways social media can impact our decisions, according to a recent study:


Social media is yet another mode of communication for many. We receive direct messages, tags in comments, and long lists of notifications every day. This persistent flow of information and incessant stream of reminders often leave us feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. We then struggle to determine what’s important and hesitate making personal decisions, especially when it’s difficult to tell what’s true and what’s not.

Confirmation Bias

Because our social media feeds are catered to us, we see what we want to see. When all we see is what we already believe to be true, our views are rarely challenged—and we don’t learn how to communicate with those who don’t share our views.

Mob Mentality

There are few phenomena as perplexing as crowd behavior. Mob mentality can be a dangerous consequence of spending too much time on social media. In fact, as cited in a 2018 internal Facebook report, 64% of people in extremist Facebook groups joined because their algorithms led them there.

There are multiple crowd behavior theories that assert when people are among a crowd with shared interests, they act differently than usual and are less aware of their actions. Social media often facilitates these experiences, encouraging like-minded folks to band together, form crowds, and influence behavior.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is nothing new, but through social media is just another way it can be felt. Wanting to be liked and accepted by our network impacts the messages and behaviors we display online. Plus, whenever we see up-and-coming trends on social media, we tend to want to do the same to feel a sense of belonging. This may cause us to say or do things we normally wouldn’t and inhibits our expression of authenticity.

What You Can Do

If you’re starting to notice the impact social media has on your decision-making—or you feel you may be developing a social media addiction—here are some suggestions to regain control of your life:

  • Evaluate your current relationship with social media, then make conscious decisions about the role you want it to play in your life moving forward.
  • Limit your use of social media either on your own or with the assistance of screen-time restrictions on your smartphone.
  • Turn off social media notifications, or delete the apps from your phone completely. Check social media from computers only.
  • Show more of your authentic self on social media to dispel idealism.
  • Take regular social media breaks.
  • Reduce how much time your smartphone takes up during your day. If you scroll through social media while you eat breakfast, swap your smartphone with a book or magazine to read instead!
  • Create screen-free areas in your home and screen-free times during the day.
  • Don’t scroll through social media before bed.

Social media can be a fun and enjoyable way to connect with friends and family, but it’s important to consider how social media may impact your mental health. Because social media has so much potential to detrimentally affect users—especially kids—Troomi phones don’t have these apps.

We believe in the limitless potential of every child to learn, do, and become anything! And without social media, we believe your children will experience the world in a more enriched way. To learn more about Troomi, click here!