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Do social media like Twitter and Facebook tap neurological need to share?

May 10, 2012

Researchers at Harvard may have figured out why people are compelled to share their every thought through social media like Twitter and Facebook, the Los Angeles Times reports. They found that disclosing information about ourselves activates the same pleasure in the brain that we experience from eating food, acquiring money or having sex. Surveys of Internet use show approximately 80 percent of posts to social media sites are about the user’s own experiences.

According to research results, when test subjects were hooked to an MRI machine, brain regions associated with reward were strongly engaged when they were talking about themselves and less engaged when they talked about someone else. Studies also indicate that an audience is an important part of one’s self-disclosure. Researchers found greater reward activity in the subject’s brains when they shared their thoughts with a friend or family member, and less when they were told their thoughts would be kept private.

The findings offer insight into the behavior of people who over-share on the Internet, even to their detriment. “I think the study helps to explain why people utilize social media Web sites so often,” says lead researcher Diana Tamir, “Why Twitter exists and why Facebook is so popular.” — Greg Beaubien


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