CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Social media might be making children more sensitive to criticism, say researchers from the University of North Carolina.

The study published in JAMA Pediatrics is believed the be the first long-term study on adolescent neural development and technology use.

Researchers say adolescents’ habitual checking of social media is linked with changes in how their brains respond to the world around them.

“The findings suggest that children who grow up checking social media more often are becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers,” said Eva Telzer, a professor in UNC’s psychology and neuroscience department and a corresponding author. 

Researchers tracked 169 students recruited from public middle schools in rural North Carolina over three years. When asked how often they checked three popular social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, participants’ answers ranged from less than once to more than 20 times a day.

During those three years, participants underwent yearly brain imaging sessions. Those sessions measured brain activity when anticipating social feedback from peers. 

The study concluded children who check social media more than 15 times per day, became more sensitive to social feedback. 

“While this increased sensitivity to social feedback may promote future compulsive social media use, it could also reflect a possible adaptive behavior that will allow teens to navigate an increasingly digital world,” says Maria Maza, a doctoral student in psychology and one of the study’s two lead authors. 

The finding may be critical as most children begin using social media during the brain development period in their lifetime.

“Our research demonstrates that checking behaviors on social media could have long-standing and important consequences for adolescents’ neural development, which is critical for parents and policy-makers to consider when understanding the benefits and potential harms associated with teen technology use,” said co-author Mitch Prinstein, who also serves as the chief science officer for the American Psychological Association.

The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Winston Family Foundation through its Winston National Center on Technology Use, Brain and Psychological Development established at UNC.