What’s interesting is that the most prominent way we tend to work on self- presentation is through things—buying things and acquiring things that signify who we are.
Think: Clothes, games, music, the logo on your laptop right now.
The intensity of emotion people can feel for their favourite brands as a result of this is powerful. An experiment showed volunteers two types of photos: the logo for a brand they loved and pictures of their partners and closest friends.
Their physiological arousal to the logo was as intense as the arousal of looking at a picture of their closest friend.
Things—and by extension, brands—are a huge part of who we are.
Why we share
So, if we like talking about ourselves so much, what would make us share something of someone else’s?
Passing information on is an impulse that we’re hard-wired with. Just the thought of sharing activates our brain’s reward centers, even before we’ve done a thing.
But the biggest reason we share is about other people: 78% of people say they share because it helps them to stay connected to people. Social media addiction can be partly be seen to be about our need for connection.
Experiments have shown that the best predictors of contagious ideas in the brain are associated with the parts that focus on thoughts about other people.
And when we share the right type of content, we gain social currency—our stock goes up. 62% of people say they feel better about themselves when people react positively to what they post on social media.
Jeff Goins wrote on our blog about this little-known research paper from the 1970s that attempts to create a unified theory of what makes something interesting.
We do this because we want to maintain relationships. When we favourite and like each other’s posts, we add value to the relationship, and reinforce that closeness.
We also create a reciprocity effect. We feel obliged to give back to people who have given to us, even in a small way. We want to even up the scales.
Social media addiction and the dopamine hit
When the like button was first introduced it completely changed changed the psychology of Facebook use. What had started as a fairly passive way to keep in the loop with your friends’ and family’s lives became deeply interactive overnight.
More than that, it became addictive. 1971, psychologist Michael Zeiler had shown with an experiment on pigeons that an unpredictable reward created twice as much dopamine (the ‘feel good’) chemical in the brain as a predictable one.
We became social media gamblers, never knowing each time we shared a photo, link or status update whether we would get a response. Like Zeiler’s pigeons, we became more driven to seek feedback when it wasn’t guaranteed.
Facebook was the first platform to introduce the like button, but we can now like and repost tweets on Twitter, like and comment on pictures on Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and on videos on YouTube. Social media addiction finds us playing one huge digital slot machine of unpredictable rewards.