Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When the Internet becomes a mirror.

         This week, the Wall Street Journal answered a question I keep forgetting to ask: why do we brag so much?

         According to the paper, a study at Harvard revealed that talking about ourselves "triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money". And we don't seem able to put ourselves on a talking budget.

          "Self-disclosure is extra rewarding" said Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir. "People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves."

          In several tests, the researchers offered people money to talk about people other than themselves. People preferred to talk about themselves anyway, and gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings to do so.

         The scientists also used an image scanner which tracks blood flow to see which parts of the brain were responding. "Generally, acts of self-disclosure were accompanied by spurts of heightened activity in brain regions belonging to the meso-limbic dopamine system, which is associated with the same sense of reward and satisfaction from food, money, and sex," the WSJ reported.

         I guess that explains a lot about Facebook. We seem to be getting something out of telling everybody how good the dessert was at that party, and about how we loved the frosting that Melody put on that birthday cake for Daniel. Probably more than we got out of the dessert and the frosting.

         Are we really making friends on Facebook or are we simply adding to our audience?

         When we write advertising or anything else, there's always the temptation to make it more about ourselves than the reader. We find it easy to generalize from our own feelings and experiences, and elucidate on them in what and how we write.  That's a danger. Everybody isn't like you or me. We'd better know whom we're writing for.

          The WSJ also quoted psychologist James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin, who studies how people handle secrets and self-disclosure: "We love it if other people listen to us. Why else would you tweet?"

          Or blog, for that matter.

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