Why Instagram's new video format could be worse for mental health

Remember the days when Instagram was filled with sepia-toned holiday pictures and snaps of sad-looking burgers with the caption ‘#yum’?

Just over 10 years ago, Instagram entered the social media scene as a major player, all guns blazing. 

And people were thoroughly intrigued to say the least: sharing snapshots of their everyday lives – even the most mundane happenings – without the worry of photos being carefully-curated or picture-perfect.

There was something rather wholesome about the entire thing.

But fast forward a decade and the platform has a very different feel to it.

Now, users will open their app to find video after video taking up their feed, with everything from dog clips, to recipe footage and fashion reels – mostly from accounts they don’t even follow.

So much so, that posts from friends and family are being missed.

It’s clear the old picture-based Instagram is slowly being replaced by a video-first model, echoing TikTok.

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Even the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, outlined yesterday that this change is something that won’t be going anywhere, as the platform ‘leans into this shift to video’.

We already know the dangers surrounding social media (particularly Instagram) for our mental health.

But where will this shift to predominantly video content leave us?

After all, a feed filled with constant videos can feel chaotic, fast-paced and even a little stressful, compared to docile photos – will this have a knock-on effect on our mental health?

Former psychotherapist Valerie Ellis says this video-first format is likely to have a huge impact on our brains – and not in a good way.

‘For consumers, video content is also more demanding to process mentally – more than double, perhaps as much as 10x more cognitively demanding, than a static image,’ she says.

‘The brain has a capacity that can be exhausted and, once exhausted, needs to be replenished.

‘But, because social media is 24/7 and designed to be addictive, the brain is not rested and becomes more and more overwhelmed with demand.’

In other words, Instagram could burn us out more than it does already.

This mental fatigue could be a massive issue, says Teodora Ghiur, a trainee integrative psychotherapist at SupportRoom.

She explains: ‘Video materials require more cognitive effort and stimulate more parts of the brain compared to pictures. This can translate into mental fatigue when watched for long periods of time.’

Katie Brockhurst, a social media consultant and digital wellbeing coach, also predicts short-form videos will have a knock-on negative effect on our attention spans.

‘From my research, the short-form video focus is much more detrimental to our attention spans,’ she explains. 

‘Instagram has removed the mute function as well – so unless you have your sound off, it that feels much more intrusive. 

‘Such short-form videos are reducing our (and particularly younger developing minds) ability for deep thinking and our ability to be creative. To quote neuroscientist Mosche Bar: “We need space in order to be creative”.

‘And it’s also affecting our ability to do deep reading as well. ‘

How to change your Instagram settings to help with mental health:

  • Set timers on your Instagram e.g. 30 minutes a day – this can be done via Apple settings.
  • Edit your feed – go through and delete any accounts that don’t serve you in a positive way.
  • Turn off push notifications.
  • Control comments, views and likes. (Go to ‘settings,’ ‘privacy’, ‘comments’, then choose the select settings you’d like to enable.
  • If you want to hide likes from your feed, tap on the menu bar in the upper right-hand corner of your profile page and select settings.’ Go to ‘privacy,’ select ‘posts’ and toggle ‘hide like and view counts’ on or off.

Katie also has a feeling this approach might backfire for Instagram.

In fact, she thinks it might ‘lead to more people leaving Instagram, and finding other platforms, as we see more of a decentralisation of social media over the coming years.’

This is something backed up by author and technology PR professional Alex Warren.

He explains: ‘Instagram was always a balancing act. It allowed people to keep up with friends and family – but also provided a place for them to express themselves and be creative.

‘The move to video shifts that balance.

‘Video-based platforms like TikTok aren’t “social networks” in the old sense of the phrase. They’re not built around maintaining relationships with people you know in the real world. They’re entertainment platforms.

‘And that’s exactly what Instagram will become.’

Metro.co.uk has reached out to Instagram for a comment and will update this article if they respond.

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