A recent study by Harvard University shows evidence as to why social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are so popular and highly addictive for many people. With the theoretical question of why people are compelled to share everything about themselves and their lives on mediums like Foursquare, Instagram, and Pinterest, this Harvard study aimed to dig into the psyche of why people are more than willing and even eager to post their thoughts and actions on social media.
Through a series of experiments, the researchers at Harvard University learned through the study that the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex.
While sharing a status update may not give us the same amount of sensational pleasure as that of sexual intercourse, the science shown in this study makes it clear that our brain considers self-disclosure to be a rewarding experience nonetheless.
In the experiments, the Harvard researchers asked test subjects a series of questions about their and others’ opinions while hooked up to an MRI machine. The researchers found that the regions of the brain associated with reward were strongly engaged when people were talking about themselves, and less engaged when they were talking about someone else.
To further the information in their study, researchers performed a secondary experiment that was geared to help them learn how important having an audience to listen is to a person’s self-disclosure.
Through the secondary experiment, researchers found that when people got to share their thoughts with a friend or family member, there was a larger amount of activity in the reward region of their brain, and less of a reward sensation when they were told their thoughts would be kept private.
This may explain why some people reveal even detrimental information on social media platforms (think of the man who was arrested after posting photos of him stealing gas from a police car, or the girl who complained about her parents which lead to her father shooting her laptop).
So what is the takeaway?
Lead researcher Diana Tamir told the Los Angeles Times, “I think the study helps to explain why people utilize social media websites so often. I think it helps explain why Twitter exists and why Facebook is so popular, because people enjoy sharing information about each other.”
This just goes to confirm my belief that social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, at least not until food becomes unpleasurable.
Read the full study here: Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding