According to brain scans, Photoshop, filters, and retouching can cause real trauma.

By By Emily Shiffer
Updated: November 28, 2018

Photoshop, filters, retouching-if you're on Instagram, watching TV, or reading a magazine, the images you're seeing have most likely been given some special editing treatment. But you may not even know it. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Cognitive Research, people were only able to recognize photoshopped images around 60 to 65 percent of the time. Yikes.

You already know that social media can have some pretty negative side effects-it can increase your risk for depression and anxiety, increase feelings of social awkwardness, and influence plastic surgery decisions. Now, a new video has found that it may even lead to symptoms of PTSD. (Related: Why More Women Have PTSD Than Men But Fewer Are Diagnosed)

British YouTube and #skinpositivity blogger Em Ford (whose previous "You Look Disgusting" video garnered 30 million+ views), created a new 15-minute video called "Redefine Pretty," which featured a group of more than 20 young women volunteers having their brains scanned by cognitive and neuroscientists from University College London while looking at images of photoshopped (with makeup) and unphotoshopped (without makeup) models. Their scans were analyzed by the researchers for activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that plays a central role in our emotional perceptions and responses.

"In #redefinepretty we conducted a world-first preliminary research study into how women perceive 'beauty,' and the potential damage retouched images and 'beauty standards' are causing. We used real women, fMRI technology, and some of the best professors of neuroscience in the world," Ford wrote on Twitter.

"Our initial findings showed that for each and every test subject the amygdala activated when viewing retouched unobtainable images of female 'beauty.' This is the same type of brain activity that can be seen in people suffering with PTSD." (Related: Not "Liking" Photos On Instagram Could Be Making You Depressed)

The amygdala has been studied as part of the brain that reacts most strongly to traumatic stress (as well as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex), which can include events such as car accidents or sexual assault. Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal, and changes in memory and concentration. And a 2017 study of 31 trauma victims found that an overactive amygdala may be one of the causes of PTSD.

"So to the brands, to the marketers, to the PR's, the creatives and the decision makers...talk to us. Work with us, listen to us, and most importantly, represent us. All of us. Not just the girls like me with white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes," she tweeted.

Ford's video-and the movement it represents-has gained major traction. The video has quickly amassed more than 500,000 views since it launched on November 12. The video's title and hashtag #redefinebeauty has been used almost 16,000 times on Instagram.

Scrolling through Instagram may seem like a mindless free-time filler, but Ford's video proves that the images we see day in and day out-and the unrealistic beauty standards they perpetuate-can have a pretty major impact on your mental health and well-being.

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