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A Systematic Review of Structural and Functional MRI Studies Investigating Social Networking Site Use

Wadsley, Michael; Ihssen, Niklas

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An understanding of the neurocognitive profile underlying the use of social networking sites (SNSs) can help inform decisions about the classification of problematic SNS use as an addictive disorder and elucidate how/when ‘SNS addiction’ might develop. The present review aimed to synthesize structural and functional MRI research investigating problematic/compulsive forms of SNS use or regular (non-addicted) SNS use behaviours. We conducted a systematic search for research articles published in English using the Web of Science, PubMed, and Scopus databases up to October 2022. Studies meeting our inclusion criteria were assessed for quality and a narrative synthesis of the results was conducted. Twenty-eight relevant articles were identified comprising structural MRI (n = 9), resting-state fMRI (n = 6) and task-based fMRI studies (n = 13). Current evidence suggests that problematic SNS use might be characterised by (1) reduced volume of the ventral striatum, amygdala, subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and posterior insula; (2) increased ventral striatum and precuneus activity in response to SNS cues; (3) abnormal functional connectivity involving the dorsal attention network; (4) inter-hemispheric communication deficits. Regular SNS use behaviours appear to recruit regions involved in the mentalising network, the self-referential cognition network, the salience network, the reward network and the default mode network. Such findings are at least partially consistent with observations from the substance addiction literature and provide some provisional support for the addictive potential of SNSs. Nonetheless, the present review is limited by the small number of eligible studies and large heterogeneity in the methods employed, and so our conclusions should remain tentative. Moreover, there is a lack of longitudinal evidence suggesting SNSs cause neuroadaptations and thus conclusions that problematic SNS use represents a disease process akin to substance use addictions are premature. More well-powered longitudinal research is needed to establish the neural consequences of excessive and problematic SNS use.


Wadsley, M., & Ihssen, N. (2023). A Systematic Review of Structural and Functional MRI Studies Investigating Social Networking Site Use. Brain Sciences, 13(5), Article 787.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 9, 2023
Online Publication Date May 11, 2023
Publication Date 2023-05
Deposit Date May 12, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 12, 2023
Journal Brain Sciences
Publisher MDPI
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 13
Issue 5
Article Number 787


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Copyright Statement
© 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

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