The Psychological Effects of TikTok

TikTok videos only last a few seconds, but they're creative and even moving. They're becoming almost indispensible for those of a certain age. However, what psychological effects does this famous app have on young people?
The Psychological Effects of TikTok
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 November, 2021

Generation Z (young people born between 1997 and 2015) are obsessed with TikTok. If you’re not familiar with this social media app, you should know that a TikTok user recently managed to plan and execute a boycott of a Donald Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. All they did was ask people to reserve seats for the event, and then not show up.

The campaign was wildly successful. About 14,000 of the 20,000 seats in the venue were empty on the night of the event. Trump had to do his rally in a nearly empty stadium. It was a powerful message to Trump and his followers, but also a sign of just how popular TikTok has become. The popularity has been heightened perhaps due to users’ growing mistrust of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

What’s so special about this Chinese app that’s barely four years old? Well, it’s dynamic, fast, and creative. It adapts perfectly to this ephemeral age we’re living in where nothing lasts. Things pop up and disappear just as quickly. TikTok is designed for this type of consumerism based on image and immediacy.

In a nutshell, TikTok allows users to create unique videos that last between 15 to 60 seconds. They use hashtags, you can tag people, leave comments and likes, etc. The most attractive thing, however, is that someone with only a few followers can still go viral.

A woman holding a cell phone.

TikTok is the new social media addiction

If you consider TikTok a simple app that plays videos, you’re way off track. It’s very different from YouTube and has little in common with other apps that you’re used to, such as Instagram. It’s a window into a world in which it’s hard to tell what’s going on because everything is moving very fast. But it’s captivating. You find yourself almost instantly hooked.

Videos play automatically, you don’t have to click on them. It doesn’t give you time to do anything else. The design is strategic, of course. They want you to watch one video after another. Unlike Facebook and other social media platforms, there’s no static home page. As soon as you activate your profile on this network, viewing is automatic. As soon as a video ends, another starts playing.

It’s a whirlwind of content. You can see original dances, parties, exercises, jokes, cute pets, singers, people giving tutorials, and scenes from movies. TikTok is all of that and more. The possibilities are endless, and it all depends on the creative originality of each user.

Many people are wondering about the effects this format has on the viewer. Parents who may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the app are especially concerned, considering its popularity with adolescents. Let’s take a look at some of the psychological implications of using TikTok.

A mom talking to her daughter using Tik Tok.

Highly creative products with a hidden cost

This app maximizes the creative abilities of its users, that much we know for sure. You can create original videos and add music, filters, special effects, etc. The app enables playback, slow motion, and quick and easy editing.

The results can be amazing. Also, because any video can go viral no matter the number of followers you have, a new goal among young people is to be a TikTok star.

What effect does this have on the user’s mental health? Well, the answer is more complex and profound than you might think.

  • Because anyone over the age of 12 can access this app, we’re starting to see hypersexualized videos of young girls hoping to gain followers and create buzz.
  • Many parents don’t even know that this app exists. Consequently, they also don’t know that their child is spending hours watching TikTok and making their own videos. It’s a huge distraction from any other activity, especially schoolwork.
  • Many adolescents have started exhibiting addictive behavior with TikTok. They’re obsessed with public exposure and getting likes and going viral. However, the nature of TikTok is such that even if they achieve their goal, their victory is fleeting. The fast-pace of the content means that a new video will come along after a few seconds, and everyone will forget about the old ones.
  • If there’s a whole group of young people whose primary concern is getting likes and interaction on their social media content, something is wrong in our society.
  • One psychological consequence of overusing TikTok is that the teen starts to base their self-esteem and identity with what they do in the app.

TikTok is the perfect platform for creating addicts

Any technology, application, program, or virtual platform has incredible benefits and dangerous downsides. Again, everything depends on how you use them. Social networks such as TikTok are attracting more and more young people through incredibly clever artificial intelligence that creates addicts en masse.

Its strategy is to practically hypnotize the user so that they’ll stay connected for hours. Maybe you start by watching a cover of a song from your favorite artists, and then you see a dancing cat, a teacher doing a science experiment, and twins dancing. Later, the app shows you a cooking tutorial, a funny baby, and a group of friends playing a prank on someone.

The stream of videos is endless, and you never have to search for anything. The algorithms and the platform’s artificial intelligence does it for you. All of that, as you might imagine, creates passive, addicted users. Consequently, they have trouble planning, focusing, or thinking about anything that isn’t TikTok.

We’re at a point in time when many young people are understanding their world and their reality through this screen. It’s a dynamic world that’s constantly changing, but it gives them tunnel vision. They don’t care what’s happening around them. In fact, they sometimes don’t even notice it. Therein lies the real danger.

Appropriate use of this technology makes all the difference. That’s where the line is drawn between original, healthy entertainment and suffering and addiction. We should all keep this in mind because no one is immune but parents should be especially mindful of their children’s use of social media.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.