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Scientists are researching the effects that frequent social media use might be having on developing minds, and we're on the verge of colorful X-ray images, which might reveal more than their black and white predecessors

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ADHD and Social Media
Color X Rays
This episode of SciShow is supported by Skillshare. [INTRO].

We’ve all heard it before: those kids these days, always on their phones, never paying attention to anything. A lot of the time it’s easy to dismiss.

Every generation complains about the following ones, right? But it’s also true that having access to the internet and social media all the time has made life very different than it used to be. Like anything new, we don’t have a clear understanding of how it affects our brains — especially ones that are still developing.

And in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, researchers found a connection between teenagers’ internet use and the development of ADHD symptoms. But the study doesn’t prove that your online social life causes ADHD. No one really knows how frequent use of social media impacts our brains because these sites haven’t been around that long.

Not to mention the handy little machines that let you access them all the time. But one way to ask that question is to look compare how much people use social media with changes in their behavior over time. So that’s what the authors of this paper did.

They asked more than 2500 LA high school students how many times a day they did 14 different media-related activities—things like checking Instagram or watching YouTube videos. These were all teens that didn’t have ADHD symptoms at the start of the research, so with follow up surveys to measure their symptoms one and two years later, the scientists could really see how things changed over time. And after two years, they did see some differences, even after accounting for variables like age, sex, and socioeconomic status.

But the differences were slight. The teens who used digital media the most were about twice as likely to report ADHD symptoms, which might sound alarming at first. But when the researchers translated that into medical statistics, they concluded that the chances of developing ADHD symptoms increased by only 10% of the usual odds.

It’s also important to note that reporting ADHD symptoms isn’t the same as being diagnosed with ADHD. Symptoms can include things that lots of people experience at some point in their life, like being disorganized, struggling to finish projects, or acting impulsively. Plus, you need to have had symptoms since before the age of 12 to be diagnosed.

Since at the start of the study the subjects were already in high school and didn’t have symptoms, they wouldn’t meet the criteria for ADHD. There’s also a pretty big caveat to all this: because of the study’s survey-based design, the authors couldn’t say if this association was /causal/. So it could be that checking Twitter every five minutes messes with your brain in a way that increases the likelihood of developing ADHD symptoms.

Or, it could be that having ADHD symptoms makes you more likely to use social media a lot. Kind of fits with the whole being-easily-distracted thing. But it could also be that both factors are the result of something completely different.

Using this study to say smartphones and social media cause ADHD could be like looking at. ER data and concluding firefighters cause burn injuries. It’s basically a textbook example of why scientists chant “correlation does not equal causation!” Still, the association is there, which should be enough to spur further research into this question.

Because it is important to understand how the ever-expanding online world affects mental health, especially in kids and young adults with more malleable brains. And I think we all want to know what online content is doing inside our heads. Speaking of getting inside body parts: Last week, scientists announced that they’d found a way to produce color X-ray images.

Whether it’s a picture of your broken bone or a full 360-degree CT scan to look for cancerous tumors, lots of imaging machines rely on X-rays to scan your innards. And they all work in a somewhat similar way. You bombard whatever you’re scanning with a bunch of high-energy photons from one side, with a detector on the other.

Different tissues absorb different amounts of these photons — dense bones are practically opaque, while softer tissues let most of them through. So based on the photons that make it to the detector, doctors can get a rough picture of your insides. But if two tissues are similar in density, it’s pretty hard to tell them apart.

Now, researchers from a New Zealand company have developed a kind of super detector that goes beyond simply counting X-rays. It uses particle-tracking computer chips, originally developed at CERN for the Large. Hadron Collider, to detect small differences in the energy of each photon when it hits the detector.

While soft tissues like muscle and fat both let X-rays through, their molecules affect the energy carried by the photons in different ways. With computer programs, you can translate those energy differences into colors, giving doctors a colorful image of your insides. That’s what they mean when they say color X-rays — the machine doesn’t detect the real colors of your different parts, .

Whereas with a traditional X-ray, they would have all looked the same. The new device has a resolution of about 90 microns—about the size of a human hair, and smaller than most machines currently used. And it can safely scan people with implants or shrapnel that would be affected by an MRI’s magnetic field.

So it could help doctors detect injuries or tumors that other scans miss. Also, because the scanner is so sensitive, it needs less radiation to make an image. And exposing people to less radiation during scans is always a good thing.

But the new tech isn’t commercially available yet, and still needs to pass safety trials. So the next step is to put it to a real-world test. And if these clinical trials go well, who knows—black and white X-rays could become a thing of the past.

Speaking of new tech, no matter what new tools you’re curious about, Skillshare likely has a class on the subject, like this introductory class on designing for 3D Printing with Lauren. Slowik. She walks you through every step of the process from drawing on paper to importing it onto the computer and preparing your 3D model to be printed.

It’s fun because she sprinkles information about the history or 3D printing, or prototyping, throughout all the lessons and encourages you to try stuff out and fail and problem solve. If you want to check out one of Lauren’s classes or any of over 20,000 classes in design, tech, and business, Skillshare is offering SciShow viewers 2 months of Skillshare for free. Just click on the link in the description to learn more.

And know that when you do, you’re also helping to support SciShow. So, thank you!