Continuous Social Media Scrolling Negatively Impacts Eye Movement

Man looking at phone.
The cross-over study measured participants’ levels of musculoskeletal fatigue using a stationary bike in addition to their oculomotor function.

This article is part of Optometry Advisor’s conference coverage from the 2021 meeting of the American Academy of Optometry, held in Boston from November 3 to 6, 2021. The team at Optometry Advisor will be reporting on a variety of the research presented by the primary eye care experts at the AAO. Check back for more from the AAO Optometry 2021 Meeting..

Sustained social media scrolling has a detrimental effect on eye movement, according to findings presented at the American Academy of Optometry 2021 annual meeting, held in Boston from November 3-6. They also explored a potential link between oculomotor fatigue and musculoskeletal fatigue driven by the central nervous system following aerobic exercise.

Researchers conducted a crossover study that investigated how vertical scrolling on social media influences vertical and horizontal saccades. Additionally, it explored whether there is a potential link with oculomotor fatigue or musculoskeletal fatigue following aerobic exercise. 

The study required 12 participants between the ages of 18 and 55 years to scroll on a social media platform for 15 minutes during 2 sessions. Using an on-board application, researchers measured scrolling speed, and during 1 of the sessions, participants cycled on a stationary bike for 15 minutes at 60% maximum heart rate. Vertical and horizontal saccades were measured for 1°, 3°, 5°, 7°, and 10° amplitudes in the up/down and left/right hemifields before and after the near task, using a video-based eye tracker.

The results showed a reduction in vertical saccadic peak velocity (21% to 34%) that was further reduced when the near task was preceded by biking (33% to 41%). Also, there was an increase in saccadic inaccuracy (15% to 19%) that was further increased when the near task was preceded by biking (20% to 28%). Post near task, a similar but lesser reduction was seen in horizontal saccadic peak velocity (14% to 29%) as well as in horizontal saccadic gain (12% to 16%). When the near task was combined with biking, this effect was aggravated (peak velocity: 19% to 31%, inaccuracy: 16% to 21%), but there was no variability in saccadic latency across any experimental conditions.

The researchers explain that, while we know that the human visual system is challenged by near work demands, the impact of such scrolling on the oculomotor system is still unclear due to the involvement of both horizontal and vertical eye movement when scrolling through social media feeds.

“Overall, our results suggest that sustained social media scrolling has a detrimental effect on the eye movement,” the report said.

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Rice S, Bermel L, Ho T, Johnson B, Marsh C, Chakraborty, A. Effects of smart phone social media use on the oculomotor system. Poster presented at: The American Academy of Optometry 2021 annual meeting; November 3-6; Boston. Board #187.