Teenagers BEWARE! Tik Tok is a BETTER teacher than your Professor.

Tik Tok reinforces learning without you even knowing it.

The learning is cheap. I don’t mean the inexpensive kind of cheap. I am saying that the reward you get for tikky tokking isn’t worth your time. Learning is reinforced by two outcomes of behaviour: reward or punishment. The most potent form of learning is when you get a random, unexpected reward for a behaviour.

Tik Tok is built on random rewards and that is why it is a better teacher than your professor.

Tik Tok is Boring until it is Not

You’re swiping and swiping like swiper the fox (shout out Dora the Explorer). After each swipe you grow weary of the diminished returns of your thumb workout. Then, on your 10th swipe, you unexpectedly come across a gorilla throwing dirt at zoo goers.

You laugh viscerally, save it to your favourites, and continue on the swiping train. That gorilla video was the unexpected reward your brain was seeking. Since you can rely on Tik Tok for this, the behaviour of opening the app becomes strongly associated with the outcome of reward — this is operant conditioning in a nutshell.

Psychology is littered with experiments showing evidence of operant conditioning. A classic experiment consists of a rat, a lever, and food. At first, the rat is in its cage not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Then the rat spots a figuratively golden lever and does not know what to do with it. Rats are resourceful creatures so he presses the lever and out comes a figuratively golden pellet. Yum!

Sometimes the pellet does not arrive but sometimes it does. The random, unexpected reward results in more lever pulling compared to no reward, or a constant stream of pellets upon each lever press.

You may recognize this operant conditioning as the “casino effect.” This is the reason why the slot machine and apps like Tik Tok are so addictive. We are prone to be button pressing and screen swiping rats because of these random intermittent rewards. Dora the Explorer has some great insight to stop this behaviour, “Swiper no Swiping!”Swiper no Swiping — from the kids TV show: Dora The Explorer

Stopping a Learned Behaviour is Hard!

And this is especially true when the behaviour is reinforced by random intermittent rewards. Couple that with Tik Tok’s main demographic being people aged 18–24 and you have a recipe for the best teacher-student relationship ever.

The brain is the most plastic between the ages of 18–24. Therefore this is the period where the most learning takes place. It has been debunked that the brain stops developing after this, so don’t fear cause neuroplasticity is always on your side.

Nevertheless, using Tik Tok (or all social media) regularly during this period of heightened learning makes for some great reinforcement. Due to the unexpected rewards Tik Tok produces, the behaviour to return to the app becomes entrenched in the developing mind of 18 to 24 year olds.

This is a reason why the most popular demographic using the platform are those who are primed to learn.

Replacing the Behaviour with a More Satisfying One

Incessant consumption of cheap rewards is NOT satisfying.

True satisfaction comes when you earn your reward. It does not come from the around-the-clock swiping of Tik Tok. Time doesn’t stop, and we’ve all felt the guilt wasting it.

There are lots of educational videos on Tik Tok you can learn from, and I’m not bashing their value cause I make them myself.

If you take the time to implement the education, then Tik Tok is valuable.

If not, then the only thing you’re learning is the behaviour of returning for more cheap rewards.

What can we replace that behaviour with?

Basically anything that favours delayed gratification over instant gratification.

In our saturated consumer culture of readily available sources of pleasure, knowing the difference between these two terms is necessary. By doing hard things consistently, we develop resilience. Former Navy Seal, David Goggins, calls this “callousing the mind.”

Callousing the mind is the result of delayed gratification and doing hard things. Softening the mindcomes from instant gratification.

The challenging part is that humans default to the latter. 

Tik Tok and social media are great tools if used sparingly, but they also exploit our default state that favours instant gratification. Learning to use these tools wisely is something I struggle with from time to time. 

Social media was the greatest teacher in my life and I have no doubt it changed my brain.

 It changed for the worst because of the random intermittent rewards and operant conditioning. However, it also changed for the better because it taught me the lesson of delaying gratification. I follow these 4 steps to reverse my conditioning: meditation, awareness, recognition, and redirection. 

Human beings have never encountered this potent a teacher before… 

We need to learn how to effectively navigate its lessons!

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