Sludge videos are taking over TikTok, and with them, our brains

Sludge videos are taking over TikTok, and with them, our brains

Have you ever tried to watch a cooking show, a game of Minecraft, a satisfying montage of someone cutting through quicksand, and a Reddit confession video all at the same time? A new video format taking over TikTok and other social media platforms embraces that jam-packed visual experience.

More and more online creators are creating multi-frame videos called “sludge content” or “hypervideos.” Like these videos Add different types Unrelated clips Together, like Scenes from TV showsAnd video game demos and soothing clips of pasta dough being thrown around. Instead of scrolling through individual posts of these videos, the viewer can now see them all at once on the same screen. So the sludge video is actually a video of videos. People online make jokes and Memes About how sludge content is an extreme response to meet our increasingly heightened need for stimulation.

“When you see sludge content, you don't know where to look anymore,” says content creator and science journalist Jessica Buddy. Some viewers may find this experience confusing or overwhelming, while others may find it fun and even addictive.

TikTok is already well known Addictive It stimulates online behavior through an endless feed of short video posts. These feeds are compiled by algorithms that quickly learn and adapt to users' preferences. But sludge content attracts users' attention in a new way. Videos are chopped up and added to a metaphorical buffet of content, creating a feast for our eyes and minds. Although the psychological effects of this new format have not yet been well studied, scientists say previous research on social media and multitasking may provide some insights. American Scientific I spoke to experts about the potential impact of this new media phenomenon on our brains.

What happens to our brains when they try to process all the information in a sludge video?

Brain activity in response to sludge content has not been studied directly, but experts say this content likely has similar effects on our brains as multitasking. Multiple studies provide strong evidence for this It is almost impossible I finish Really multitasking – Doing or watching more than one thing at a time. However, many people think they are multitasking We are When they work, study and consume entertainment. The rise of “cross-media multitasking” appears to have serious consequences for the developing brain. A 2020 study showed this Attention and memory may deteriorate in young people Those who deal with different digital media on multiple devices at the same time. For example, they text and scroll on social media while watching a series. Sludge content seems to be a very active form of media multitasking.

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Multitasking divides your attention into smaller parts. If your attention is switching between multiple activities or videos on the screen, you won't be able to retain the information Just one of the sources To fully understand or remember what is being presented. That's because our brains have to switch back and forth to pay attention to each activity, says Megan Moreno, MD, an adolescent medicine physician who studies media and digital health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the long run, overstimulation can harm your ability to focus on a single task. “We live in this world with a lot of little, little interruptions,” Moreno says. “It's hard to put stories together, and it's hard to keep them because you have to do a lot of work to put them together.”

Is sludge content different from other forms of media?

We know that it is stimulating for our brains to see many things moving at the same time. TikTok is chaotic, with a flood of instant, fast-moving content and a curated “For You” page. Sludge content piles mess upon mess.

There is some evidence that our brain's ability to process such information has been slowly adapting for some time. For example, Moreno compares the evolution of online content to the evolution of television programming. Early television series were often simple, focusing mainly on a single character facing a small mystery that would be solved at the end of the episode. On the other hand, modern television shows feature multiple stories and characters, along with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and dream scenes. The public is still able to keep up with increasingly complex information, and even wants more. Social media trends, such as sludge content, also reflect people's increasing hunger for information, Moreno said. Some people want more from one post. It is still too early to say whether sludge content will be a permanent trend.

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Why do creators create this type of content?

Content creators try to get as many people as possible to watch their videos and keep watching them for as long as possible. In February 2022, TikTok increased watch time to ten minutes and began rewarding videos longer than a minute. The platform claims that these videos can help creators reach more viewers and give users the opportunity to spend more time watching, or in other words, increase their “consumption time.” This has left creators looking for ways to get new users to watch a single video longer. “You want something to happen instantly, whether that's the video content itself or the text that appears on the screen with captions that slide together or move,” says Buddy. “This seems to be working.”

She adds that content producers have also found that videos with lots of smaller clips keep people engaged longer. When sludge content appears, it confuses people visually enough to keep watching to see what's going on, Boddy explains. “I feel almost hypnotized when looking at them,” she says.

Is the sludge content beneficial to some people?

There is not much evidence about whether videos are beneficial or harmful on a psychological level. Experiences also vary from person to person. It seems like some people can be over-stimulated by this type of content. For example, neurodivergent people, especially those with autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may feel overwhelmed or overwhelmed when faced with too many stimuli, such as multiple videos in a content sludge. But other people like to be highly stimulated this way because the content grabs their attention more than individual video posts, says Yalda Ols, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies how media affects children. Speaking to Uhls, two of her students at UCLA's Center for Scholars and Storytellers compared the content to “kids' sensory videos for teens.” They point to videos that use a variety of shapes, colors and movement and claim they enhance visual stimulation in developing brains. Sludge content often contains auditory and visual stimulation, which may also affect people's engagement and attention.

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How might this affect young people?

It is difficult to determine which age groups are most exposed to sludge content. However, a large percentage of TikTok users are between the ages of twelve and 24 years old.

Moreno says researchers are still busy discussing the effects of sludge content on cognitive development. Some researchers believe that this is highly stimulating for people with developing brains. If guys are looking at sludge posts all day and every post is three videos playing simultaneously on one screen, that's a lot of sensory input. Consuming sludge content at this rate can leave them needing an enormous amount of stimulation to get their attention.

Other researchers have noted that sludge content can provide ideal environments for standard disintegration. In other words, it can put our brain on autopilot. If someone focuses all their energy on the screen, He no longer notices anything happening in his external environment. This dissolution of the norm can be calming and create a space for daydreaming, which can directly enhance creativity and problem-solving skills.

What should future research on sludge content include?

More and more research is focusing on the impact of TikTok, including its effects on society Psychological health and mental health, but also on its spread misinformation.

According to Moreno, researching social media trends, such as sludge content, can help better understand how society handles multitasking and large amounts of information. Sludge content can come and go, like any online trend, but Moreno believes it still needs to be monitored.

“I don't think we have a lot of studies that really tell us [hoe onze hersenen omgaan met grote hoeveelheden informatie in één keer]“Because, as you can imagine, it's very difficult to design a study like this,” Moreno says. “If sludge content doesn't remain a trend, that also tells us something: that it's not the content people want to spend their time on.”

This article previously appeared on American Scientific. transformation: Rani Sakrabanga

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